I recently had an opportunity to use a set of the latest electronic textbooks for schools. The "books", which look more like "pads", offer texts, photographs, video-clips and access to the vast resources of the internet. Electronic textbooks, I was told, are the classroom books of the future.
I used the "books" with a group of 10-year-olds who, right away, said they liked the idea of using books which don't involve cutting down trees.
The lesson was for primary school geography and offered newspaper reports, photographs and video-clips about the earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan that occured earlier this year. Pupils saw, and responded to, animations and news clips which explained the causes and effects of the earthquake. At the same time, they learnt how to interpret and analyse a wide range of information sources.
The software detected slower learners and provided them with a "learning pathway" of less-challenging activities. Faster learners were able to progress to extension activities. All the learning experiences were interactive and engaged the pupils.
Future developments will include the option of assignments and tests being marked, recorded and analysed by the computer.
By containing all the resources required for imaginative lessons, the electronic textbook is impressive and highly convenient. Those huge stocks of books we presently have to store and manage will become as obsolete as video tapes.
The pace of technological change within education has already been impressive with the adoption of interactive whiteboards, digital projectors and access to the internet. The replacement of traditional paper textbooks by e-books is, technologists generally agree, the next step. Indeed it has already started in high schools in America and elsewhere, where hefty and expensive textbooks have been replaced by small electronic cards which fit into students' electronic learning pads.
It will mean, I hope, more equitable learning experiences for pupils and a more level playing field for exam preparations and university admission. At present the huge disparity of resources between departments, schools and authorities means that some pupils are denied access to the resources which are helping other pupils achieve higher grades.
As well as improving access to resources, e-textbooks offer the opportunity for schools to get more resources for less money. Production costs are considerably lower. E-books remove the need for paper, ink, warehousing and many other costs which publishers presently have to pass on to schools. Hardware costs are also falling.
There are differences in opinion about when schools will start using electronic textbooks en masse. But one thing is for certain: there is no stopping the advance of technology in our classrooms.
John Greenlees, Secondary teacher.