Why Online Textbooks Still Don’t Work
January 29, 2013 | 10:30 am
By Joanna Cabot
Techdirt has a great write-up about a school district that is spending over $2 million to switch back to paper textbooks after investing heavily in an on-line model.
The problem? Surprisingly, it’s not one of those, ‘There isn’t enough content available yet!’ situations. There is content. But the hardware requirements to run it, in this age of multimedia, are so high that students who can’t afford broadband Internet at home can’t use them! Techdirt posits this as a form of DRM—they add in the ‘bells and whistles’ to prevent students from downloading an offline version.
But it’s more than that—it’s not just broadband they’re asking for. The system requirements also spell out screen resolution, memory requirements and software including Microsoft Excel and a broad spectrum of Adobe plug-ins. You have to have broadband, yes, but you also need to have a pretty up-to-date system, and that’s just not within reach for many students. And if they can’t access the textbook from home, they can’t exactly do their homework.
I have to admit, I feel Techdirt’s pain on this. I am currently struggling to manage an online training program I am enrolled in right now that is unfortunately 100 percent video-based. On one level, I’m frustrated because this is not my preferred learning style, and I resent sitting through all these 20-minute videos when I could read a textbook or lecture notes in one-third of the time. And on another level, I’m having a lot of trouble fitting the coursework into my schedule. I do have breaks during the day when I have time for it, but the aging computers aren’t robust enough to handle the system the course planners have set up. It won’t run on my iPad, so I can’t use that, and it won’t download so I can play it on my phone during the commute home. And then at night, I am so tired…
And to make it all the more ironic, the Techdirt article hit my inbox the same afternoon I got a well-meaning email from my ‘mentor’ for the course, asking me if everything was OK, because she hasn’t seen me online for awhile. I haven’t responded yet. Maybe I should just forward her the Techdirt article and let her draw her own conclusions.