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The Gradual Disappearance of Printed Textbooks in Florida Schools

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Many college students like Matthew King, 24, already use digital textbooks as a cheaper and easy-to-carry alternative to physical textbooks. Mauhe Almeida/WUFT News.

By next year, some Levy County students won’t have to lug textbooks to and from school anymore.

In 2011, the Florida Legislature accepted a proposal that requires Florida public schools to adopt digital textbooks by the 2015-16 school year. Though district schools are still figuring out how to make the transition, Levy County just completed a pilot program using digital textbooks.

As a result, a state grant is being provided for ninth graders to receive Chromebooks starting next year, said Jeff Edison, the assistant superintendent of administration.

For other grade levels, Levy County Schools are working to implement a program called Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), said Edison.  This program has already been implemented in other counties in Florida, such as Collier County and Hillsborough County.

“Depending on the subject area, the school may choose whether or not to issue a textbook for a kid to take home,” Edison said.

Online material is particularly useful in history classes, according to Edison.

“History changes a whole lot faster than our books do,” he said. “So it makes a whole lot more sense to use online resources.”

In fall 2014, the new Common Core standards came into effect, and Florida has been one of the leading states meeting these changes, especially with the implementation of new technologies. The state received an “A” in Digital Learning Now’s 2014 Digital Learning Report Card. The 2015 report card hasn’t been released yet.

To help with the transition, the Florida Legislature created the Digital Instructional Materials Work Group. The group, made up of principals, parents and technology experts, came up with a plan to implement the shift from traditional textbooks to digital materials.

“One of the things we are trying to get to is students using more technology in the classrooms,” Edison said.

But for parents who worry that textbooks aren’t being sent home with students, the first line of defense is always to talk to the teacher or principal. Levy County’s “teachers work with the parents, and we want to make sure that we’re giving every kid the opportunity they should have,” Edison said.

Some children and their families are already feeling the impact of the new policies.

“My sister works a lot, so every time I go home, I help my niece with her homework,” said Brandi Wisecarver, 26, a student at the University of Florida’s College of Education. “Her teacher uses a lot of online material to supplement reading and math lessons.”

The online material makes it easier for her sister, and her niece seems to like it better than books, according to Wisecarver.

“My sister can take her daughter to work with her without having to carry textbooks around,” said Wisecarver. “My niece pays more attention to online material. Her generation was born with computers, and I notice she gets bored and distracted from books quicker.”

Teaching colleges around the country, including UF, are now offering classes to prepare future educators for the shift.

“Technology is the future,” Wisecarver said. “We can’t get away from that.”

About Mauhe Almeida

Mauhe is a reporter who can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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