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October 23, 2012

SPECIAL REPORT: Digital education methods on verge of long-term use

CHICKASHA — Part two of a three-part series investigating new teaching methods in Chickasha and the nation.

Chickasha Independent School District spent $135,000 on textbooks this school year. This number may seem high, but in order to give a book for each subject to each student the school district would have to spend $225,000 each year according to  Dwight Yokum, CISD Director of Finance.

This is where the internet comes into play. As both a parent and a pivotal part of CISD's decisions, Yokum has many firsthand accounts about the slow, but obviously present move toward digital education and away from textbooks.

"When it comes to my daughter, she is more comfortable getting out her laptop and working that way," Yokum said.

There are approximately 2,500 students in the district right now, according to Yokum and he said the district makes a large effort to make sure each one of those students has access to any books he or she would need.

Books are available for checkout at the library and most of online components that students can access.

The question is whether students will take advantage of these tools, said Yokum.

"Parents need to take action and ask their children about their textbooks," he said. "We are trying to instill a sense of responsibility in our students from this perspective."

As far as curriculum goes, each school district is generally responsible for how much they want or don't want to use textbooks. The state has very little involvement.

"It's not the state's responsibility for implementing the use or non use of digital material," Jeff Downs, executive director of science, technology, engineering and mathematics for the Oklahoma Department of Education said. "Local school boards are allowed to mandate use of books and how much technology is used."

Downs said although curriculum decisions are made at the local level, a law was passed in Oklahoma in the last year that mandates some level of digital learning at the high school level.

With this law in mind, people like Downs and Spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Department of Education Tricia Pemberton are in the process of toward a future with digital curriculum.

"Everyone is still figuring out how to sculpt this process," she said. "Many districts have chosen what works best for them."

The only stipulations from the state regarding this is that districts need to have choices, so students can learn in a manner that best suits their needs.

Executive Director for C3 Standards in the Oklahoma Department of Education Cathy Seward said although these changes can be controversial, the information age has offered more opportunities for learning.

"We want districts to have a choice and for students to have a choice when learning too," she said.

For the moment, the future of textbooks seems uncertain. Yokum said CISD has to question the value of textbooks every year as budgetary decisions are made. Downs said his department has not made any changes on how textbook are adopted or approved since 1956.

The only real certainty is that education in a digital age has caused a change.

"The digital platform is more of a wild west situation right now," Downs said.

But this is not a negative according to Yokum.

He said the ability to help his daughter via tools like Google are tremendous advantages.

"That's the greatest part of our information age," he said.

Despite this changing dynamic, there is still not clear consensus on the future of textbooks in a digital age.

The final piece in this series will examine high school teaching methodology in the digital age.


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