“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
As we continue to evolve as a nation and adapt to the changing American landscape, we continue to impress upon ourselves new and innovative ways of conducting business and government. The educational system is no different. Despite the chronic cycle of slashed budgets and growing classroom sizes (thanks in most part to State officials and value shifts), technology always seems to find a way of reducing the stress and anxiety on school boards, teachers, and administrators. Take the State of California’s Digital Textbook Initiative as an example.
California is suffering through a major budget situation that has grabbed the attention of everyone in the nation. Suffering from a budget shortfall of nearly $26 billion, educational leaders are beginning to think outside the box. Thanks to support from Governor Schwarzenegger and educational visionaries, the Digital Textbook Initiative provides electronic versions of math and science textbooks in the classroom. Future textbooks in the areas of history, social sciences, and language are soon to follow. Pilot programs and testing will begin in selected middle schools and high schools beginning with the new school year. Governor Schwarzenegger stated, “This is the information age. It stands to reason that our students’ textbooks should be as current as Google and other internet sources.” California is the first state in the nation to pilot such an ambitious program.
One angle to this story is recognizing that our decisions today have a gross environmental impact on the future of our planet and our resources. By replacing paper textbooks with electronic textbooks, we can potentially save millions of trees and reduce the volume of waste going to local landfills. Take a moment to consider the vast quantity of paper textbooks that are disposed of nationally and locally by the educational system. I do not have official data…but I have seen first hand the operations of a landfill and the numbers are excessive. On the other hand, once these e-books have become obsolete, damaged, or broken, they also need to be handled ethically, responsibly, and properly. This means school districts recycling or donating expired e-books to local libraries, non-profits, or other educational institutions. If maintained properly by students and school officials, e-books possess a longer lifespan than many textbooks. Finally, digital versions allow school districts to upgrade content remotely and keep content current with new versions or editions of a particular textbook. Therefore, we save on shipping expenses (cardboard, tape, packaging) and transportation (fuel, oil, maintenance). Saving on transportation reduces the volume of carbon dioxide and pollution entering our atmosphere.
In addition to the approach toward resource conservation, let us place financial terms on school textbooks. In the 2008-2009 school year, California spent approximately $218 million on K-12 text books, with the estimated cost per book ranging from $45 up to $100. This figure does not include monies spent by local school districts for specialized textbooks, textbook replacement, or advanced reading material. In the long term, digital versions are expected to be less costly and more efficient. Yes, the cost of purchasing millions of e-books will be pricey. As the initiative expands to other states and jurisdictions, my hope is that the technology improves, the rise of competition will drive prices down, and states encourage the use of e-books in the classroom.
In the spirit of brevity, I will conclude this posting by stating that e-books are a viable solution to reducing our environmental impact and carbon footprint in our world. However, with the status of the State of California, this initiative may not see immediate influence or impact. My hope is, as the technology continues to improve and as state officials recognize the opportunity that presents itself in e-book form, that other states and districts find a way to make this happen.