Good Ideas, Bad Receptions
If you are like me (and really, if you are not, what good are you?) you have looked at the current system of textbook publishing and said "Damn!?!?!" Public schools spend lots of money deciding on, ordering and distributing text books that are often out of date by the time they are in classrooms. They then have to decide each year if the books they are using are old enough in content and condition to embarrass the education system and if the new editions are good enough to justify replacing the old ones.
It is even worse with University level books because the publishers make pathetic changes like page numbering and exercise order nearly every year and since not every student resells his or her books there is a constant "need" for college bookstores to reorder expensive new books.
I, like many people have seen this state of affairs and thought: "Why don't they set up textbooks electronically?" They could be updated easily, work on numerous platforms from portable handheld to home or library PCs and it would be cheaper to give kids a simple handheld to do them for several years and all subjects than to keep buying expensive textbooks. I believe they tried something similar with laptops in Maine that met initial criticism but has won converts even without electronic textbooks. They could be designed to check in each morning to see if they have been reported lost or stolen. If it were, it could stop working and let someone know the I.P. number it was using. Those that were not used in a reasonable time could periodically beep to alert the owner if lost. It turns out that kids are far more responsible with their gadgets than adults give them credit for anyway and since the material could be available to kids even if they "forget" their device on the bus there would be no incentive to do so (would you believe - the dog encrypted my homework?). Add some messaging and discussion software to the device and kids might even fear loosing them.
And, if you are like me, you have mentioned this idea to people, usually older people, and been given the "Aren't you cute to think that technology can replace textbooks?" look. They may have even tried to explain to you that computers are expensive things (like textbooks are cheap) for adult working environments not toys for school or they blathered off something about information overload (I have never heard a good explanation of what this is - it sounds like something a moron would complain about).
Well, the joke is on them. In a recent BBC article a pilot project in Kenya this exact thing is happening. An interesting quote at the end of the article states:
Indeed. If you also take into account this article about the shrinking digital divide we might just find developing nations leapfrogging our agricultural era education systems. In 20 years we may see African aid workers coming here to teach North American schools how to incorporate student and class blogs and other software into the curriculum because we have been sitting here for two decades saying "Those suggestions are new and therefore silly. You can't use technology to solve all your problems."
No but you can try - you won't fail at everything. Is that not what technology is about?