Please Tell Me Where the Tipping Point Is.

In late October, I was fortunate enough to participate in TechLearning Magazine’s Northeast TechForum in Tarrytown, NY. This marked the fourth year that I’ve been associated with the conference either as an attendee or a presenter.  Each year tells me a dynamically different story about what is happening in our schools here in the Northeast.  Each year someone new comes into the conference and turns it on its ear in some capacity.

My presentation, Admin 2.0, was in the afternoon, which gave me all morning to catch up with friends and peek in on some of the sessions that were going on.  In each of the sessions, there was a recurrent theme among the crowd: their computers were really small, and a good percentage of the machines lacked full keyboards.  The proliferation of eReaders, smartphones, and iPads especially astounded me.  Later in the day, as I entered the room where I was slated to present, there they were again: iPads and Kindles, and small little machines stretched across the cloth-covered tables.

Had I missed something?  Was there an iPad tree in the lobby that I neglected to pluck?  Were my eyes deceiving me, clouded by geeklust for the latest gear from Cupertino?

Indeed, no shrub or gadget-crush was present, they were really everywhere.  I left the conference with a head full of steam to find out if the price had dropped or there was a deal to be had for educators.  What I found was not a price drop, nor an educator discount, but rather more information to add to the turmoil that’s been surrounding the real work I do in my district.

Publishing is upside down right now, in all forms.  Magazines and newspapers are struggling to remake themselves into viable options that readers and consumers still feel they need, and education publishers are beginning to feel that pinch as well.  In a recent article at Xplana, Rob Reynolds spoke about what he feels are “Nine Important Trends in the Evolution of Digital Textbooks and E-learning Content”

  • The increased disaggregation of content and the breaking up of the traditional textbook model
  • A proliferation of e-content and e-learning apps that support content disaggregation and new product models
  • A merging of the current rental market and the e-textbook market
  • A wide range of license/subscription models designed to respond to consumer demands around price and ownership
  • The growth of Open Education Resource (OER) repositories
  • The development of a common XML format for e-textbooks, shared by all publishers and educational technology players
  • The importance of devices and branded devices
  • The development of e-commerce and new product ecosystems that challenge the traditional college bookstore
  • A move from evolution to innovation and revolution

For those of us in K-12 education, the shift to eBooks or iPads or any straying from our traditional reliance on textbook publishers is cause for alarm–not in the sense that we don’t welcome them, but in the sense that we have budgets due (in New Jersey they are due really soon).  So what I want to know, and I want someone out on the internets to tell me is have I missed the tipping point?  When I look at the needs of my departments this year, should I be looking away from the reliance on paperbacks and textbooks, tradition be damned?  Or is it still too early?  If I really buy into what Reynolds is talking about, or what Lisa wrote about just a few days ago, why would I waste one more taxpayer dollar on a medium that will soon be outplayed by really, I mean really, inexpensive technology and distribution systems?

This situation, as I’ve described it, leaves a lot to be considered in terms of both the physical infrastructure (is your building equipped with universal wireless access for students and faculty to download all of these snazzy eBooks and apps), and intellectual infrastructure (is your staff and school community ready to take the leap into what many traditionalists–look at the comments on Lisa’s last post–would believe is the great demise of the American attention span).

Just for giggles, before I sat down to write this initial idea down after TechForum, I called up Cushing Academy.  Remember them?  The private school that cleared out much of its book collection in its library in favor of Kindles? A few quick stats:

  • 100 Kindles available to students
  • only three ever gave them issues and had to be sent back
  • they can’t keep them out of the hands of students
  • titles are constantly added via multiple school-based Amazon accounts
  • they don’t regret the decision (at least the librarian I spoke to).

Something to think about as we all build our budgets–is it time to make the switch?

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3 thoughts on “Please Tell Me Where the Tipping Point Is.

  1. I love technology, have class websites, blogs, etc. I hate paper, my mailbox is never emptied out of defiance of the endless memo. If I’m going to type something why bother printing it out and photocopying it when I can email it or post it? I’m a former dotcom guy now in educational technology. Love the tech stuff.

    However, and this is a big “however”… my calendar is a little book I keep in my back pocket and I always have a pen in my pocket. Why, when I’m so plugged in do I still use pen and paper for my scheduling? The ease of use. I love my iPad, but nothing is as convenient as my book. My book never needs to be charged or updated. My book works all the time, never crashes. My book can be dropped, kicked, thrown, you name it and it always comes out fine (mid year I usually need to enlist the aid of a paperclip or some such support system).

    I love the idea of the Kindle or iPad. I love my iPad. I just see traditional text books, and writing in general, to still be a very valuable medium. It’s durability, reliability, and usability can’t, in my opinion, be trumped by a digital device requiring care and charging.

    There is a tool for every job. For me textbooks, and writing in general, are the all purpose hammer to get the nail in the base of structure. iPads and Kindles are the mallet. Bigger, better, stronger, faster, etc, but not necessarily the right tool for the job.

    Sometimes we over-think things and try to over-tech problems. Sometimes the simplest solution is just that, simple.

    Great blog, sorry for the rambling comment….

    1. Mr. Casal,

      Thanks for the response, and I think you write clearly about the dilemma I had in mind. I am firm believer in never pushing when I should pull, and never going out of my way unless I have to. I’ve also stated in many a conversation with my staff that we are always looking for the right tool for the right job at the right time.

      That being said, and with your pocket calendar in my mind, I still ask the question, is that enough for our students. Will they choose the calendar in pocket as the easiest tool for their needs? What if they don’t, but we foist it upon them because we feel it is? What if we never give them the choice?

      I feel we are getting really close to a point, if we haven’t already reached it where I would be hard-pressed to justify to myself the huge purchase of materials from Acme Publishing Company, although my community and board of ed may not take huge issue with it–it’s what’s been done in the past.

      Take a close look at the Reynolds article. He brings up a point that just blows my mind: let’s say I’m a student at State U and I register for my classes and need to begin gathering the materials for those classes according to the syllabi. Reynolds is claiming that they’ll be apps for these things. My professor, in conjunction with the bookstore (most likely Amazon or B&N owned) will have crafted an app that delivers my content to me in one fell swoop, or download. I click the app and shazam, I’m all set for that semester.

      That doesn’t mean I can’t access my books and paper if I want to, but the ease with which our students will be able to access their materials the new way may preclude any of them from even yearning for that.

      Just thinking out loud here….

  2. Have you seen this article?

    I wonder sometimes if we over think the technology and our student’s use of it. I also wonder what the detriment is in going digital since so many of our local/state assessments are pen & paper (I mentioned this fact during your Admin 2.0 session at the TL TechForum).

    I agree buying tons of texts books can certainly be wasteful and, to an extent, pointless. But I also wonder if we shun them completely and put all our resources into “cutting edge technology” are we also being a bit wasteful and shortsighted? If we forget our past we are doomed to repeat it kind of thing…

    And what happens whey Skynet becomes self-aware and the network turns on us?

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