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Opinion Piece Ponders the Impact of Digital Textbooks

A new EdWeek commentary explores what the advent of digital textbooks and related media likely will mean for districts and schools, with some cautions about getting caught up in the e-hype.

"What the shift to electronic readers and e-texts portends needs close inspection, with an eye to the impact on teaching and learning, not dreaming or even optimism," writes Gilbert Sewall, the director of the American Textbook Council.

On one hand, he says: "[D]igital textbooks offer teachers and districts the chance to break out of standard lessons and use something better. Increased competition and open-source instructional material challenge the monopoly market, and could result in alternatives to the glossy mediocrity that flows from established publishers."

On the other, he says: "Are digital textbooks really the cheaper, better learning tools that California state officials have envisioned? Most experts think not. The most high-minded educational software designers admit that electronic formats are not conducive to sustained reading."

He ends the piece with the argument that, ultimately, content is more important than the medium in which it's presented.

"Regardless of who the digital winners among publishers are, dumbing-down and trending-up textbooks has been a steady moneymaker over the past 20 years," Sewall writes. "If new media go this direction, only more so, the losses to teaching and learning will be catastrophic."

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