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Online textbooks add content, save money
Schools adapting to newer technology
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A student answers questions through a program called Kahoot on his phone Thursday in a geometry class at Gainesville High School. - photo by Erin O. Smith

Textbooks are disappearing in the Hall County schools — and saving the system more than $1 million a year.

But county teachers also use technology to “crowd source” and develop curriculum that can go beyond a text.

Hall County has not purchased a full “core” subject of textbooks in about six years, Kevin Bales, director of middle and secondary education, said. Such a purchase would be $2 million to $3 million, he said.

Hall County has $700,000 budgeted for the current fiscal year, Bales said. The budget primarily is for replacement texts, he said. About one-third is for specialty books, such as sports management.

Aaron Turpin, Hall County technology executive director, said teachers make suggestions and provide copies of course materials that can be used by others in the field. That material could have a lot of sources, he said — “you can’t do this with a text.”

“With digital textbooks and digital resources, students often have the advantage of thousands and thousands of pages of information on a specific topic, whereas hardback textbooks are much more limited,” Bales explained.

“Moreover, digital texts and resources provide students with access to curricular components in an environment they are accustomed to navigating. The technology component is often an engaging ‘hook’ for students,” Bales said.

Gainesville City Schools has seen no cost savings through online texts, said Sarah Bell, chief academic officer, but the system has online course material for all levels of math, middle school science and some high school courses.

“It is certainly a matter of convenience for students, as they would have the capability to access an online book at any time,” Bell said.

Bell added that teachers can use Google Classroom to create course materials.

She explained that Melissa Hill and Sarah Almand, at the Ninth Grade Center, “spent time last summer using Google to collaboratively design the Algebra I curriculum. It was then shared with all Algebra I teachers.”

Bell also noted city teachers “are expected to have some form of virtual communication with students due to inclement weather procedures.”

“Fifteen years ago, all the teacher had was a textbook — now they’ve got the world,” Turpin said about creating online course material.

He noted that online materials are easily available. Hall County uses CK-12, an online source for science and math. He noted teachers can use that material, add to it and customize it for their classes.

The county system also uses Open Education Resources, a digital library, from which teachers can draw content.

Turpin said the system is beginning to think in terms of “flexbooks,” in which hyperlinks are plentiful.

Hall County has a “library” of 13 online classes, including system health and P.E., Spanish I to IV for honors and advanced placement, AP physics and Chinese I and II.

The county system is in the midst — and will be two-thirds completed when school opens in August — of a project to install Epson audio-visual projectors.

Teachers use laptops, tablets or phones to project on a screen — which can be split into four screens. The online content can be displayed for students, and the students can have the material on their electronic devices.

By the end of the summer, Turpin said, 22 schools will have the AV equipment and software installed. It is a $5 million project, he said.

“The price of technology is going down, which is great because our use is going up,” Turpin said.

He said Hall County seeks to “equip teachers to personalize education for their kids.”

“The one disadvantage with digital textbooks and resources has been the challenge of supporting parents in the home environment as they work with their son or daughter. It is for that reason that many of the schools provide parent guides for courses,” Bales said.

“Nonetheless, most parents recognize the fact that student learning has been heavily influenced by the instant accessibility of information. The days of taking groups of 30 students to the media center to huddle around sets of encyclopedias seem quite distant,” he said.

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