Monday, March 22, 2010

The question is whether and how the iPad might be funded by shifting the cost of things like textbooks and computer labs.

Textbooks. If eTexts were available for free or at very low cost, could the money saved be used to maintain a program that provides teachers and students with mobile devices such as the iPod touch and iPad loaded with equivalent eTexts and free eText readers such as
Stanza and iBooks? This raises a few related questions:

Where would free and very inexpensive eTexts come from? There is a standard called
ePub that is widely accepted and supported by free readers such as Stanza and iBooks. As well, there are free software apps that make authoring, converting and even serving ePub documents very easy such as Sigil and Calibre. So, could classroom teachers write eTexts that could replace the physical textbooks now in common use? What institutional support would be required? Release time? Extra compensation? Royalties?

How do we identify the classroom teachers that have the content expertise and writing skills necessary to create eTexts? Could a group of teachers collaboratively write an eText? Presumably, all experienced classroom teachers have the appropriate content expertise. As well, those same teachers are probably well grounded in the state standards that guide the curriculum throughout. So, the major variable is writing skill. Can that be taught and learned? Do we need editors and, if so, where do they come from? Are we talking about establishing a guild of teacher/writers?

Some will worry, "What about copyrights?" So, what is it about textbooks that is copyrightable? As it turns out, not much. Facts and ideas are NOT copyrightable. It's only the unique expression of an idea that is copyrightable. Illustrations, audio and video clips? There's tons of stuff in the public domain and in various open content archives under Creative Commons licensing. The
Internet Archive is but one example. However, the nagging question of whether educators are too self-censoring to venture forth may be important. If it is a factor, how can it be overcome?

Now, assuming we still want to move in this direction, what technologies might help individual and collaborative groups of teachers writing and editing eTexts? Is this a Web 2.0 opportunity?

On to computer labs. Most of the ideas behind computer labs in schools are focused on addressing economic issues having to do with the fact that not all students can afford a computer and not all schools can afford a 1:1 program issuing a laptop to every student. Is it time to rethink this? If we could provide every student with an iPad or iPod touch, would we still need as many or even any computer labs. What does the cloud computing model offer us in this quest?

Finally, what is the average annual cost of textbooks and computer labs on a per student basis? If foregoing that cost enough to support an eText project, 1:1 mobile device program and requisite professional development? Is it more than enough, just enough, almost enough? If there is an anticipated shortfall, how might the difference be made up?

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