"It’s about as big as a day-planner and much, much lighter than 300 textbooks.
Flicking from virtual page to virtual page, teacher Devon Stokes-Bennett deftly navigates through her electronic book, highlighting passages of Marley and Me. She looks right at home in this brave new world of education.
WestShore Centre for Learning and Training, part of the Sooke School District, is introducing 50 e-books to its students in an attempt to give learning a push into the digital age.
“These kids were born in the digital era. They came out of the womb knowing how to use technology,” says Daphne Churchill, principal of WCLT. “(For students), going to a building and trying to access information out of books, to copy it down ... doesn’t make sense in their world anymore.”
WCLT is the first school in the province to adopt e-books as a vehicle to deliver part of its curriculum, mainly novels for English class. The pilot project — called Teaching for the 21st Century — has also caught the attention of the University of Victoria’s digital humanities department.
Before full rollout, a few WCLT students are “beta testing” the electronic book technology — the main roadblocks are SD 62 security features conflicting with online digital libraries. The educators admit they depend on students to flush out problems. Kids are driving how the technology is used in the classroom, not the other way around, Stokes-Bennett says.
“They play around, take intuitive guesses. They just poke away at it,” she says. “We’ve got to listen to the kids to find out what works. This can’t be imposed from the top-down.”
Stokes-Bennett and fellow teacher Dawn Anderson launched the e-book project after being awarded $75,000 from the Times-Colonist Raise-a-Reader fund. Part of the grant went toward 50 Sony Reader Digital Books.
E-books are part of the inevitable evolution of education, the teachers say.
Virtual books can’t be lost or damaged, allowing more money directed into student resources (although electronic readers are about $400 each). The most basic e-book can collapse dozens of heavy textbooks into a 200 gram computer. Buying the rights to digital copies is half the price as physical books, Stokes-Bennett says.
On the learning end, e-books allow students to integrate study with online social networking, blogging and almost instantaneous access to information that has become the norm. Ultimately, it’s supposed to help students become better readers and more creative thinkers.
UVic English professor Ray Siemens, the Canada Research Chair for Digital Humanities, said the WCLT project will allow his lab to better understand how electronic media influences learning.
For instance, if a high school student reads a Charles Dickens novel, they would normally tap into associated online social networks, dictionaries, wikis and information, which enhances and encourages the learning process, he says. Take that resource away and the students are less likely to succeed.
“Kids of this generation are very intuitive. They quickly realize the benefits of working this way,” Siemens says. “I’m interested in learning from those who are emerging readers, where all the computer skills reside. This is a generation who doesn’t know the world without computers, e-mail or networking.”
It’s still early days, but Siemens says e-book technology, book publishers and the reading public have finally found an equilibrium. “E-ink” technology is easier on the eyes and more people are reading with electronic media. He expects the next generation of kids to almost exclusively use electronic reading devices.
The e-books at WCLT are black and white and have rudimentary graphics, but the educators say they are the future of education. Stokes-Bennett described it as teaching kids skills for the future instead of obsolete methods of the past.
Churchill expects to iron out the kinks and see what sets of problems emerge using e-books, but ultimately they would like to see the project expand across the district.
“This will fundamentally change the way we do education,” she says."