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Schwarzenegger Makes His Case for Digital Ed


California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recently announced plans to have his state digitalize its math and science textbooks, took to the opinion pages recently to make his case.

In this op-ed piece in the San Jose Mercury-News, the governor basically makes three main arguments in favor of putting textbooks online, as I read it: 1) The move will save his revenue-challenged state a lot of money, as in many millions of dollars over time; 2) many of the texts used in classrooms become outdated not long after they're printed; and 3) the digital wave may scare us old fogies, but the Twitter generation is completely ready for the change. He also says the state can ensure that digital texts meet the state's academic standards and are high-quality.


Should be interesting to see where opposition to this proposal—"those who ardently defend the status quo," as the governor puts it—comes from. This item, published by Ars Technica, a group that writes about technology, including "open source" efforts, says that there was talk of putting free classroom materials online a few years ago, in history, but that went nowhere.

Schwarzenegger caps his commentary by suggesting that education officials can learn from the music and newspaper industries, which have discovered that "those who adapt quickly to changing consumer and business demands will thrive in our increasingly digital society and worldwide economy."

And the world's print journalists breathe an anguished sigh.

UPDATE: I’d asked who might be opposed to this digital education effort in California. Well, this story in the San Francisco Chronicle isn’t discussing the opposition, exactly, but it lays out the potential hurdles to making this online program happen. One major concern of the education officials quoted in the article, including state schools superintendent Jack O’Connell, is that the digital effort, despite promises of cost savings, will bring new costs of its own. Schools will have to add technology; teachers will have to be trained, the story says. A spokeswoman for the state’s secretary of education, however, argues that the savings will come, as districts find ways to print, download, and otherwise make innovative use of the free, online math and science curricula.


Governor Schwarzenegger spoke today at a Calabasas High School to highlight his digital textbooks initiative - you can see video of it online at his website:


This is a great example of a state doing the right thing (moving to online materials which are indeed superior long term for the very reasons he mentioned) for the wrong reasons (he is mainly doing this not out of love of tech, but to cut education funding).

I can only hope that 5 years from now every child has a laptop or at the very least an ipod touch type device to read these textbooks anywhere they want and interact with the internet for research and socialization constantly. Imagine a world with no backpacks, all kids would need is a handheld device which could contain everything they need. I got through my last year of college with only an iphone and a home computer, so I know its possible if there's the institutional will.

Of course, to make it work, schools would have to get past their tech phobia which keeps mobile devices and most of the internet (especially social networking sites) banned from a dozen states and thousands of districts. Here's hoping this is a start; ask any 10 year old, being disconnected all day from the internet is a form of (mild) child abuse.

Get Off Textbooks.

I agree that digital textbooks are a great idea. Unfortunately, we will need to address access inequities if we are to move to universal technology usage. I work in a poor district where many of my students have no computers at home. The first time some of them touch a computer is in a middle-school computer lab. They are unable to complete any assignments requiring technology at home. If we do not supply low-income students with the technology they need, then using digital textbooks will be inequitable and pointless.

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