California Launches Online Textbook Initiative at the Start of School Year

Katrina Kovalik

In May 2009, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched the California Digital Textbook Initiative to place, at the very least, high school-level math and science textbooks online.  This initiative aims to make the information in textbooks more accessible to all students and save money that could be put towards other educational purposes.

This program is the first state-wide initiative in the nation to adopt digital textbooks.

Schwarzenegger released the first report of the project in August which reviewed 16 online math and science textbooks for content acceptance.  Each digital textbook must meet state academic standards confirmed by The California Learning Resource Network (CLRN), which is a project of the California Department of Education.

Supporters of the initiative believe it’s time for California’s educational system to take advantage of available technologies in order to cater to the more technologically oriented generations.

“The textbooks are outdated, as far as I’m concerned, and there’s no reason why our schools should have our students lug around these antiquated and heavy and expensive textbooks,” said Schwarzenegger at a June press conference. “California is the home of Silicon Valley. We are the world leader in technology and innovation, so we can do better than that.”

Online textbooks have the potential to be interactive and to be updated as information changes, rather than waiting six years for a regular set of textbooks to be updated.

They would also be more cost effective, hopefully saving around $300 to $400 million or more each year for California’s floundering educational budget. $350 million were spent on math and science textbooks for public schools last year.

Organizations and companies already participating in the program include Pearson, Curriki and CK-12, all of which either create the textbooks or put them online.

Critics raise concerns that not all students have access to computers outside of school and that putting aside physical textbooks will undermine the ability of students to absorb information.

“I think that switching to online textbooks would save trees, but I also think it would be an annoying and unnecessary change,” said junior Andrea Say. “I love using highlighters in my textbooks and highlighting on the computer isn’t the same.”

Textbook companies participating in the program may encounter issues regarding the protection of copyright and a possible decrease in profits. These corporations are riding on the assumption that most students will still prefer to have a physical textbook as well as the online resource, and they may be right.

“The textbook website for chemistry was really helpful for flashcards and quizzes,” said junior Alyssa Wendt. “But I don’t think I’d like to have the textbook only online because you wouldn’t be able to bring it with you to school or any other place if you had to study.”

As far as Miramonte is concerned, any adoption of online textbooks would have to be decided by the district. But it seems the administration is favoring traditional textbooks.

“I’m sure we could look into the option of online textbooks considering how expensive textbooks are,” said Associate Principal Carlson. “But we also need to decide what’s best for the learning experience of the students and oftentimes hard copies provide that.”

Math teacher Ms. Wong agrees with Carlson, “I don’t think online textbooks are engineered to help good students,” said Wong. “You need to be able to thumb through the pages of a hardcopy to really learn the information.”

Despite lingering doubts, California’s Digital Textbook Initiative is generating a large amount of optimism regarding budget shortfalls, updated learning techniques, and advancements
in education.