Clearwater High School is embracing the future in planning to issue an e-reader to every student next year. While there are logistical issues to work out, it is a worthy experiment to try to better engage students through familiar technology than to force-feed them through textbooks that are less than engaging.
Instead of loading down students with the dead weight of textbooks that start to become outdated as soon as they roll off the presses, Clearwater High intends to load textbooks onto an electronic reader weighing far less than a pound. Electronic texts can be updated at the speed of a download rather than waiting for the next edition of a ponderous textbook.
But most important, this forward-looking idea recognizes technology as a tool to be used, not a problem to be avoided. Too often there is a disconnect when students, used to a constant flow and sharing of information via their smart phones, Facebook accounts and text messaging, enter a classroom where their phones are to be turned off. Teachers appropriately fret about students who cheat by hiding their phones between their legs and looking up answers on a quiz. But rather than ban all personal technology, it is far better to leverage it and use it for learning, which is what the e-reader plan does. Of course, there will be all sorts of practical issues — who is responsible for replacement and damage costs, an e-reader's lifespan, the device's obsolescence in the face of quickly improving technology and using the device appropriately, including what can and cannot be downloaded. But these matters can be dealt with by smart policies.
Students growing up in a digital world will warm readily to e-readers — the Kindle or its equivalent. The system could allow much more back and forth between students and teachers, and issuing an e-reader to every student will help to narrow what remains of the digital divide separating those who can afford the technology from those who can't. Innovative educators could even think of systems of rewards, which would allow students to earn the rights to download nonclassroom books for free or use their e-readers for some non-classroom entertainment and education. Clearwater High's experiment recognizes that new technology may be the best way to teach familiar lessons.