Technology to Replace Textbooks?

Maybe it’s the triple-digit temperatures, the sun baking their brains. Why else would Vail Unified School District in Arizona decide last month to replace all of its traditional textbooks with brand-spanking-new laptops?

If you listen to the administrators at the school district, you may find that their idea is not so cockamamie. They actually have compelling reasons for the switch. As the district superintendent, Calvin Baker, boasted in an AP wire news report, laptops may actually-gasp!-help kids learn better. Baker researched at other schools before making the leap across the digital divide, and found that kids who had wireless notebooks seemed more focused in their studies.

It could be that 21st century children relate to keyboard and LCD screens far better than they do to paper and pen, considering all of the digital devices they have at home-cell phones, PDAs, video games, and of course, their own computer.

Laptops may also be the ultimate teacher’s aid, allowing them to create innovative and fresh learning plans based on an ever-expanding assortment of web resources. That’s enough to get any grizzled veteran’s teaching juices flowing, and engage even today’s students with their five-second attention span-far better than the yearly slog through the same-old textbook would.

Textbooks are outdated in another way. In the United States, land of No Child Left Behind, students are no longer measured by what they learn from textbooks. They are measured by how well they take standardized tests. In Arizona, for instance, high schoolers will soon have to pass some painful exam called an Instrument to Measure Standards to graduate.

With such valid benefits behind a digitally driven education, the Vail Unified School District figured laptops were worth the extra cost. (They go for $850 apiece, while a set of textbooks usually cost at most $600.) The administrators just have to hope that the students don’t leave those laptops outside in the sun too long.