Going Digital: Downloadable Content Replacing Books in Nebraska?

Jacob Putnam, a seventh-grader at C.L. Jones Middle School in Minden, Neb. uses an iPad in his social studies class. The devices are becoming increasingly more popular at schools across Nebraska. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)
Shawn Wheelock's seventh grade social studies class works through the lesson plan on iPads. The devices are the property of the school, unlike Grand Island Senior High, where each student is assigned an iPad to use in all classes and take home. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)
Many textbooks are available in traditional and digital formats at Nebraska Bookstore in Lincoln. The store's parent company, Neebo Inc., owns 250 stores around the nation and sells digital content at every store. However, company officials say e-textbooks comprise only 5 percent of yearly sales. (Photo by Ryan Robertson)
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March 13, 2013 - 6:30am

Across Nebraska, iPads and e-readers are becoming the new normal. The demand for downloadable content is so great, the Nebraska Library Commission recently asked the state legislature for a million dollars to buy more electronic resources. At many schools, iPads have now replaced textbooks in some classes.


On a typical Monday morning at C.L. Jones Middle School, students scramble through the hallways, on their way to their next class. Located in the central Nebraska town of Minden, C.L. Jones looks like most other middle schools. The halls are lined with artwork from the students. Teachers talk amongst themselves about an upcoming assembly. But look closer, and you’ll see C.L. Jones is part of a new trend in education.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

A seventh-grade student at C.L. Jones Middle School in Minden, Neb. uses an iPad during her social studies class. An interactive map incorporated into the lesson plan adds a more integrated, hands-on approach according to teacher Shawn Wheelock.

After the bell sounds, signaling the start of first period, 8th grade social studies teacher Shawn Wheelock instructs his students to settle into their seats.

The class of 18 pre-teens does as its told, but there’s a noticeable absence in the classroom: textbooks. Instead, everyone in the room, including Wheelock, powers up their iPads.

“[The iPad] just brings everything to life more. I can use videos, and many online resources,” Wheelock said.

During the past few years, iPads have become more common in many classrooms across Nebraska.  The State Department of Education says 14 Nebraska school districts have established 1:1 ratios for iPads to students, and more districts are expected to move to a 1:1 ratio next year. 70 school districts in Nebraska have already established 1:1 ratios for laptop computers.

According to Wheelock, iPads allow him to tailor his curriculum to the needs of his students. For example, in his lesson on Italy, Wheelock gave his students links to Youtube videos and interactive maps and tests. He even created a Jeopardy-style video game for them to play.

All the content is accessible through the iPads. It’s exactly the type of digital integration principal John Osgood envisioned when he started buying the devices.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

C.L. Jones Middle School principal John Osgood uses his smartphone to examine a digital document, while his iPad and desktop computer display other programs. Osgood says technology has saturated society, and is the future of education.

“Two years ago, I had one set of iPads; a set in the eighth grade language arts classroom. Now, we have our eighth grade language arts. Our seventh grade language arts. The social studies classes for seventh grade. The science classes in eighth grade, seventh grade and sixth grade all have iPads now,” Osgood said.

As he referenced a grant proposal on his desk, Osgood said he was also in the process of applying for federal funding to add iPads to math classes as well.

To Osgood, the benefits of iPads in the classroom are almost endless, and in some cases, might actually be cheaper than paper textbooks over the long haul. He said the information they can access is constantly updated, unlike a textbook.

“Just imagine a social studies classroom, as soon as that social studies textbook gets to me, hardcover, it’s out of date. Automatically. Digitally, it can be updated pretty darn quick,” Osgood said, chuckling.

Of course there are some concerns when putting these expensive and powerful devices in the hands of children.

As part of the Child Internet Protection Act, in order to receive federal funding to buy things like iPads and lap-top computers for students, the school has to install filters on each device to keep students from looking at banned websites.

Also, some teachers can be resistant to completely reformatting their lesson plan for a digital medium. However, Osgood said of the five staff members who didn’t want an iPad last year, each requested one of their own after seeing them in action.

And it’s not just classrooms where digital devices are replacing books.

Returning a book to your local library may become a thing of the past as well.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Francine Canfield, director of Baright Public Library in Ralston, Neb. demonstrates how e-readers can be used to access the library's digital resources. Canfield says demand for digital content has increased by almost 1000 percent during the last five years.

Photo by Ryan Robertson, NET News

Two patrons use computers at Baright Public Library in Ralston, Neb.  Library director Francine Canfield says even with the rise in digital technology and the increased demand for downloadable content, public libraries will always have a place in the world, because they are informational and cultural hubs for society.

At the Baright Public Library in Ralston, an Omaha suburb, Director Francine Canfield said she’s seen the number of digital downloads skyrocket in her eight year tenure.

The increased use of iPads and other e-readers like Kindles, Nooks, even smart phones has led to greater public demand for downloadable content.

According to Canfield, in the last five years that demand has increased by almost 1000 percent.

“People want library services 24/7. The fiscal reality is that’s impossible. Therefore, by having the electronic devices and electronic resources, e-books, downloadable audio books, our downloadable magazines and databases, that really expands our service to that 24/7,” Canfield explained.

The popularity of e-books and e-magazines has reached a tipping point in Nebraska, according to Canfield. That’s why she, and the Nebraska Library Commission,  went before the Appropriations Committee of the Nebraska Legislature in early March, and asked for $1 million.

Canfield said with that money, which amounts to about $0.50 per resident, the Nebraska Library Commission will be able to buy an ample amount of downloadable content for Nebraskans all across the state.

“This is education for everybody, because the more access people have to books, the better educated they are. The more knowledgeable they are, the better citizens they are. And I think we all want to have a better Nebraska,” Canfield said.

But you might not have to buy an e-reader and toss out your books just yet. According to some experts, not all books can translate into a digital format.

Nate Rempe is the senior vice president and chief technology officer for Nebraska Book Company. NBC’s parent company, Neebo Incorporated, has 250 stores across the country, including two in Lincoln.

Photo Courtesy of Nebraska Book Company (Neebo, Inc.)

A student uses a digital textbook, called a "jumpbook", on an iPad. Nate Rempe, the senior vice president and chief technology officer for Nebraska Book Company, says even though iPads and e-readers are increasing in popularity at the primary and secondary education levels, college students have yet to fully embrace the technology.

Rempe acknowledged while e-textbooks may be the future for college students, they’re certainly not the present. He said downloadable textbooks only account for about 5 percent of Neebo’s annual sales.

“Studying with a textbook is very different. It’s moving back and forth between chapters. It’s reading segments and chunks of content, and even in some cases having multiple books open trying to understand a concept,” Rempe explained.

Rempe went on to say other factors like cost also contribute to college students shying away from downloadable textbooks. Unlike at the elementary level, some higher education textbooks, like a math book, can be 20-30 percent cheaper to rent than to buy a digital copy.

As Rempe explained, e-books won’t become the norm in higher education until the culture of learning changes.

Back at C.L. Jones in Minden, John Osgood said that change is happening now.

When asked if there were any classes or lessons which couldn’t  benefit from iPads, Osgood said, “No, there isn’t a class. There isn’t one that I can think of, and anyone who says there is, I’ll bet that we can find a use for one.” 

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