If Georgia state senator Tommie Williams has his way , all those middle school backpacks stuffed full of physics textbooks, English lit novels, notepads, and pens could soon be slimmed down to svelte shoulderbags containing the barest necessaries--and an Apple iPad.
The move isn't really all about back pain (though it actually may help with that--student back injuries associated with long term hauling of heavy books are well documented ), it's about money and relevance. As Williams noted recently , Georgia State spends about $40 million a year on textbooks "and they last about seven years. We have books that don't even mention 9/11." Digital editions of textbooks can be quickly updated as new prints are released, which is much simpler than recalling millions of physical paper textbooks. And there's no shipping fees associated with digital textbooks--everything can be handled over a school's wireless Net system, securely. There'll be fewer problems with theft or lost books, and when a student leaves the school, they'll simply pass their iPad back to the staff and it'll be ready for a new student, with the latest books already installed.
Plus the digital learning experience can be more feature-rich on a tablet computer, because textbooks can include video, games, pop-quizzes, and social media features that help kids learn the facts in a more memorable way. Williams notes "This is the way kids are learning, and we need to be willing to move in that direction." He's already met with Apple, which has an iPad schools system that includes e-text access, the necessary Wi-Fi and teacher training included in the package, and Georgia is trying to fund pilot programs as soon as possible.
We wonder how the schools will tackle one or two technical flaws with the plan: Sure, textbook losses, theft, and accidental damage due to chemistry experiments gone awry will decrease with the plan, and the real-time relevance of the texts will go up. But iPad theft, losses, and damage are much more expensive to deal with--and schools may see their insurance bills hike upward. Then there's Facebook to deal with--specifically, many kids' desire to hook up to it constantly, which may necessitate filtering on the school's network. And when you enable Net-based learning, you also enable kids to freely Google "evolution" in biology classes, which, given Georgia's history  on this matter, will likely cause much political and cultural hand-wringing.
Image via Flickr user mortsan .
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