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Digital textbooks are on their way

HISD is on the leading edge.

HISD is the first of Texas’ large districts – and among the first large districts in the nation – to radically rethink the way it buys new high school instructional materials, shifting from printed textbooks to digital materials accessible from school-issued laptops.

“Our rule is that, each time state dollars to buy instructional materials come in, we no longer procure physical textbooks,” says Dan Gohl, the Houston Independent School District’s chief academic officer. “We’ll do that every year until we reach a new balance between electronic and physical materials.”

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For HISD, the switch is possible because the district is in the midst of a three-year project to equip every high school student with a laptop. This year, students at 11 high schools were issued laptops they could take home. In January 2015, students at 20 more high schools will be similarly equipped, and by 2016, every high school student in HISD will have one.

The new generation of textbooks, HISD officials emphasize, must be more than just scans of the print versions. “It’s not enough to say ‘digital,’ ” says Gohl. “A pdf isn’t enough.”

Last October, in a meeting with publishers that serve the Texas market, Gohl described the kind of digital textbooks that HISD intended to buy – starting with this year’s purchases for science courses. (Next year, the district plans to follow suit with social studies and math.)

“There should be embedded links and video,” Gohl says. “It has to be editable; teachers must be able to use just portions, without taking the whole thing. And it must share some degree of connectivity.”

Yeah, that’ll be different, all right. Benefits include lower costs, more flexibility, and of course better outcomes in the classroom. How much of these benefits HISD ultimately reaps remains to be seen, since we’re still on the first steps of this journey. There’s a lot to look forward to, that much is for sure. See here, here, here, and here for more on the laptop program that underlies this for HISD.

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