Educators preview digital books at SXSW Education Conference


by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist ERIN COKER

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

Posted on March 6, 2012 at 7:08 PM

Updated Tuesday, Mar 6 at 7:21 PM

AUSTIN -- Goodbye textbooks, hello iPads.

"We've been working with Apple for about a year now on these iBook 2 versions, and we have released four different titles, and we have some more on the way. It's really just a different way to render an instructional experience for kids," said Mike Evans.

Evans is the senior vice president of Pearson, a company that makes traditional, online, and digital textbooks. Tuesday he showed off the company's latest classroom tool to educators at the South by Southwest Education Conference. 

Evans says the interactive interface of the iPad makes it easy for students to use.

"When I look at a particular animation, in this case, it's a molecule, I can look at that molecule from all different directions, and I can interact with that in a way that I just really couldn't do with a printed book," Evan demonstrated. 

Many districts across the state are already putting technology similar to this in the classroom. Students in Eanes ISD are testing iPads as part of a pilot program, using them as a way to complete homework and as an alternative to textbooks.

"Those textbooks are dated even a month or two after they come out. So you're talking history from 2004 or 2005; a lot has changed since then. And with an online textbook, you get instant updates. You can then dig deeper and delve deeper into subjects that interest the kids," said Eanes ISD Director of Instructional Technology Carl Hooker. 

However, this new technology costs. In addition to buying iPads or laptops, digital books can start at $15 per student, per school year, compared to textbooks that last about eight years.

"Our textbooks costs about $75, so in five years time, we'll be at the same spot at the break even point. So until the price goes down, I don't' think it's super cost effective for those $14.99 ones," Hooker said. 

Still, Hooker says districts will have to find a way to pay or use free online versions because he's certain digital learning is the future of education. Finding ways to go digital is becoming easy to do. Ninety percent of textbook companies offer online, PDF versions of their books, and there are companies that offer free interactive books online. Educators expect that will drive down the cost of digital books, making them more affordable.