Tuesday, June 9, 2009

California moves to put textbooks online instead of on paper

In a story published on Slashdot, Hugh Pickens reports that California will be moving to online textbooks for their state's high schools.

The move was reportedly made to help reduce expenses for struggling school budgets. Governor Schwarzenegger called the reliance on heavy printed books "nonsensical," and pointed to the fact that students are already using electronic media such as Twitter and Facebook for communication.

The story has a decidedly green angle as well. Replacing thousands of printed textbooks with easy-to-update electronic versions will reduce paper and ink use, while reducing waste streams from discarded out-of-date or damaged text books. That model could make a huge difference in paper use if the practice spreads through other grade levels and other states.

I love the green aspect of this, and applaud the Governor for initiating such a bold move at a time when school budgets are teetering on the edge.

But there is an element of an SNL skit in here somewhere, too. We see a saddened Captain Jean-Luc Picard in his office, lovingly cradling his calculus textbook -- the last of its kind before the electronic book took over. (Those of you who get the allusion, congrats! You are as geeky as I am!)

Or perhaps we see a teacher Twitter today's history lesson...the fall of Rome in under 140 characters...

While the comic possibilities are endless, I have to go back to the potential this has for a green impact. K-12 schools and colleges buy, use and discard millions of tons of paper each year. While there is something undeniably wonderful about turning the pages of a real book, it would seem that for school text books, the green answer is on the screen.