In California, teachers may not be bound to use printed textbooks much longer. By the fall of 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger plans to provide free, open-source digital textbooks for California high school math and science classes, according to ABC News.
Schwarzenegger says the measure will save the state $350 million. Critics, however, doubt that digital textbooks would in fact save money, saying that they would require investing in new technology and teacher training.
Either way, the initiative has reignited debate about the use of digital textbooks.
Open-source digital textbooks offer more updated information in a timely manner, says Neeru Khosla, of CK-12, a nonprofit in California that offers free Web-based content for primary and secondary schools. In contrast, states approve print textbooks on a six-year cycle.
"Today, I was actually looking at my kids' textbook and Pluto was listed as one of the planets. You're not going to be able to change that until the next textbook comes out. But online you can change that information immediately," says Khosla.
But while critics acknowledge that digital textbooks would literally lighten students’ book bags, they say that schools are not ready yet ready for them because not all students have access.
"Where are you going to get a computer for everybody? How many of these kids actually have computers at home?" says David Sanchez of the California Teachers Association.
Questions also persist as to the quality of open-source texts in comparison with the more expensive, copyrighted textbooks produced by traditional publishing companies.