Endless Possibilities: Online Textbooks at Staples

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Some students use iPads as a source for textbooks and novels in classes at Staples. (Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer/MCT)

Most Staples students enrolled in a Spanish course are familiar with the struggle of constantly lugging around heavy “Realidades” or “Galeria de Arte y Vida” textbooks. But for students in Spanish 5A, that pain is now a distant memory – their textbook is found on their computer.

“The impact of using an online textbook against a regular textbook is tremendous. The online textbooks have many interactive activities that can be perfomed in and outside of the classroom that are of most value to different types of learners,” Spanish teacher Renee Torres said. “If I had to summarize the advantages of online textbooks, I could write a whole book about it myself.”

The textbook used in the Spanish 5A classes is called “Imagina,” which Torres and Victoria Mazzarelli, the 6-12 World Languages coordinator, worked together to get approved for the Spanish 5A classes.

“[The online textbook] allows our world language classrooms to truly become 21st-century classrooms,” Torres added.

Spanish teacher Joseph Barahona, is less enthusiastic about the online textbook than Torres, and realizes that there are both pros and cons of having an online textbook for the class.

“When assigning homework, for example, some students will say that they had no internet connection and therefore couldn’t do it. It’s hard to tell who is telling the truth and who is not. A pro [of the online textbook is that it is] eco-friendly,” Barahona said.

Spanish teacher Eamon Griffin echoes Barahona, and thinks that having both an online and a physical textbook for a class would be a good idea.

“The online text is effective in making things like videos, grammar, and vocabulary activities interactive, and giving immediate feedback to students on activities. Nevertheless, having a tangible, traditional text is necessary for students to be aware of how much information is actually available,” Griffin said.

Rosie Levenson ’11, a Spanish 5A student, finds that the benefits of an online textbook outweigh its drawbacks.

“An online textbook is a lot more convenient, and I no longer have to worry about bringing a heavy textbook to school every day. The only downside is sometimes the online textbook doesn’t adjust well to my computer monitor screen, but it is easy to fix,” Levenson said.

At this stage, there are a very limited number of online textbooks used in classes at Staples. However, some classes have changed technologically in other aspects.

For example, according to 6-12 mathematics coordinator Frank Corbo, most teachers in the mathematics department have been combining their own teacher-created material with online lessons.

“We are relying less and less on traditional textbooks,” Corbo said.

In the English department, online textbooks, as well as regular physical textbooks, will likely not become present in the near future, simply because the content taught in English classes does not warrant a need for textbooks. The department has always purchased actual novels, plays, and short story collections for students.

But Lisabeth Comm, 6-12 English coordinator, affirms that technology can still be utilized in English classes to some extent by using portable e-book readers like the Kindle and the iPad to download the works students have been assigned to read in class.

“Kindles have the capacity to annotate the text, which is a skill we teach. When students are issued a paperback novel or play from the department, we often ask them to annotate using Post-It notes,” Comm said. “If a student wanted to purchase the same title on his or her Kindle, the annotation could be done in that way.”

Torres adds that the technological strides made so far in Spanish 5A are only just the beginning. Budget permitting, Torres would like to continue to enhance the course with more online features to allow students to continually practice the language.

“The possibilities are endless, and in a technology-driven society like ours, technology in the classroom is crucial for the educational enhancement of all students,” Torres concluded.

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