We are in the midst of a digital transition. Wireless internet starting becoming popular in the mid-1990s; today, we see wireless hot spots everywhere as we scan for an open one on our laptops and phones. Despite this transition, we are behind many other developed countries that boast citywide wireless systems with even faster speeds than our own. The United States needs to speed up its digital transformation if it hopes to keep up with countries like South Korea who not only are more “wired” than us but also outperforming us on standards-based testing. A more wired country means better access to information, which education could certainly benefit from.
A week ago Arne Duncan, U.S. Education Secretary, affirmed the need to make this transition saying, “Over the next few years, textbooks should be obsolete.” Our digital transition does not mean digitizing photocopies of textbooks – that would be like trying to pass microform newspaper articles off as “digital newspapers” today. Duncan’s view of a digital textbook is far more robust. Digital textbooks would be interactive by providing a means for students to address misunderstandings with videos, simulations, and assessments imbedded into the online text. A student enrolled in high school biology, for example, could clarify her misunderstanding of cellular division on an end-of-chapter quiz by choosing to watch a step-by-step video, manipulating an interactive simulation, or perhaps connecting with her peers and teacher using integrated social media. Meanwhile, schools would have the benefit of buying curriculum “a la carte,” meaning they could take the best from each publisher’s digital textbook to assemble their own rather than collecting piles of dusty textbooks because each one had only a few valuable chapters.