Replacing Paper Textbooks with eBooks and Digital Devices

By Gavin Brown


A backpack filled to the zipper with heavy textbooks is a back breaker to many students in elementary and secondary schools. Such books include the several hundred page biology book, or the history book that is out of date even though it’s only four years old, and the mathematics book that is only used once in a while. While the textbooks are heavy for students, they are also very expensive for school districts and state education departments. For example, the state of California is currently spending somewhere around $400 million on textbooks in the K-12 system. [1] Those backpacks that bust open with huge books hanging out can be a thing of the past. Several states across the U.S. are working with different organizations that utilize the Internet and eBooks in educational institutions. Instead of heavy, expensive and outdated textbooks, states around the country are trying to maneuver their school districts to use free eBooks.

What are eBooks?

EBooks are digital copies of books that can be downloaded from the Internet. The eBooks can then be read on computers or on handheld digital devices like the Kindle, iPad, or smartphones. Ebooks can be free; however, some publishers ask for a fee that is cheaper than the regular printed price of the text. [2]

Sometimes, non-profit organizations publish their own free eBooks, like CK-12 which is a non-profit organization based out of Palo Alto, California. Their “mission is to reduce the cost of textbook materials for the K-12 market both in the U.S. and worldwide”. [3] The philosophy behind CK-12 is to publish free textbooks online that meet the state standards. These books could then be implemented into classes. [4] The difference between CK-12 and other free eBook publishers is that CK-12 brings many people together to write, edit, and review each chapter of their books. [5] They are partnering with Salman Khan and the Khan academy to make their textbooks more interactive by including links to videos on YouTube and the Khan Academy. [6]

An additional benefit of CK-12′s textbooks is that they are flexible. For many courses, textbooks often contain information that is irrelevant to the course curriculum. With CK-12′s eBooks, educators can select chapters from various textbooks to create their own textbook. This will allow them to manipulate the material within the textbook to meet the standards that they want to address. CK-12′s eBooks are called “Flexbooks” for the capability to be mixed and matched. [5]

Ebooks in the Education System

  • NASA and CK-12 in Virginia

In 2007, the Virginia State Department of Education and the Department of Technology collaborated to create the state’s first free, up to state standard textbook. Originally, Virginia’s basic selected physics textbook included info such as “cathode ray tubes,” which are “now obsolete for televisions and monitors, with no mention of LED, LCD, or plasma displays”. [7] The departments in Virginia took it upon themselves to invest in free open source electronic textbooks.

The project was spearheaded by NASA research engineer, Jim Batterson. [7] He wanted the eBook to be based on the CK-12 “Flexbook” platform, meaning they enlisted the help of a dozen physics teachers who “volunteered to write chapters or develop lab experiments for emerging fields, including biophysics, quantum mechanics and relativity”. [8] The “Flexbook” was then reviewed by a “physics professor from the College of William & Mary” and a “Montgomery County high school honors physics student, Pranav Gokhale” who planned “to check it for readability”. [8] The project was completed in less than three months.

The “Flexbook” then was posted online for other physics educators to post corrections, suggestions, and or other ideas. Now, the “Flexbook” meets the state standards of Virginia and is used in high school classrooms. The “Flexbook” can be downloaded online at various places on the Internet including CK-12′s webpage. [9]

  • Amazon’s Kindle in Florida

Besides free eBooks online, other schools are taking steps to get rid of old textbooks. In 2010, Clearwater High School, of Clearwater, Florida, worked with to obtain Kindles for all 2,100 of its students. The principal of the high school, Keith Mastorides, organized this step towards digital classrooms. Clearwater High is reported as the first school in the U.S. that had totally incorporated the Kindle for their students. [10] Each student received his or her own personal Kindle from which he or she then could read his or her textbooks. All their course books are able to be loaded onto their Kindles. Every math, science, history, or reading book is at each student’s disposal to read, study, and examine at his or her convenience [11], [12], and [13]. Clearwater High School jumped into the digital age faster than the rest of the state of Florida. In 2011, Florida state education officials released a plan to have students in Florida only use “electronic materials” from digital handheld devices. [14] The state officials hope to have this accomplished by 2015. Until then, they plan to be bringing schools into the digital age incrementally.  Courses will slowly move away from paper and books, to digital and handheld devices. [14]

Is Digital Really Cheaper?

While eBooks may seem like a great money saving idea, not everyone agrees. Some California educators believe that the digital books would end up costing more than schools would be saving. [15] The critics of eBooks feel that “any savings from free online books would be lost to the technology expenses”. [15] If schools incorporated eBooks, the technology would have to be there for the media to be able to work. Students and teachers would need to have eBook readers and material that is up to state standards. Also, digital textbooks would also require everyone to have a high enough quality computer with Internet access. While the expense of the eBooks will be considerably cheaper, there could be rising costs for training the teachers in the technology as well as maintenance for broken, misplaced, or defective technology. [15] In Florida, as state education officials are pushing for all digital material by 2015, some educators are worried about the schools in rural areas. They wonder about students and districts that do not have enough money to get the technology for digital textbooks. When it is easier for some students to get the technology and more difficult for others, this could create a gap between wealthier and poorer students. [14]


Students’ backpacks of the future will consist of digital handheld devices that can read the biology, physics, psychology, and calculus books, and many more. Schools are switching to eBooks and digital course material, while the heavy textbooks are becoming a thing of the past. Currently, students’ textbooks can easily be outdated, expensive, heavy, not to mention tarnished by previous users. With free online eBooks, schools have access to material that isn’t dependent on publishers. The material can be updated or corrected a lot faster than regular textbooks can be updated. Ebooks can help bring costs down for school districts that deal with increasing budget deficits.



[1] California Open Source Textbook Project (2002). COSTP. Retrieved from

[2] DARREL INCE. “ebook.” A Dictionary of the Internet. 2001. Retrieved January 07, 2012 from

[3] Terms. CK-12. Retrieved from .

[4] Khosla, Neeru. (2011, September, 20). Wasting Our Educational Resources. Retrieved from

[5] About Us. CK-12. Retrieved at

[6] Free Customizable Teaching Resources for K-12. CK-12. Retrieved at

[7] Jackson, William. (2009, March 4). Virginia releases the first open-source textbook for public review. Government Computer News.  Retrieved from

[8] Chandler, Michael Alison. (2008, November 30). Stuck-in-the-past Va. Physics texts Getting Online Jolt. The Washington Post. Retrieved from

[9] FlexBook: CK-12 Physics, 21st Century – A Compilation of Contemporary and Emerging Technologies. (2009, September 17) CK-12.  Retrieved from

[10] Catalanello, Rebecca, & Tao, Dominick. (2010, September, 9). Clearwater High prepares to hand out Kindle e-readers to its 2,100-plus students. The Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from

[11] Tao, Dominick. (2010, September, 17). Clearwater High Students get their Kindles. The Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from

[12] Tao, Dominick. (2011, February, 26). Clearwater High program putting Kindles in students’ hands attracts national attention. The Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from

[13] Catalanello, Rebecca. (2010, June, 2). Textbooks ditched at Clearwater High as students log on to Kindles. The Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from <>.

[14] Sokol, Marlene, & Solochek, Jeffrey. (2011, February, 17). Florida looks at taking school textbooks completely digital by 2015. The Tampa Bay Times. Retrieved from

[15] Tucker, Jill. (2009, June, 3). Free digital plan costly, educators say. The San Francisco Chronicle. Retrieved from

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25 thoughts on “Replacing Paper Textbooks with eBooks and Digital Devices

  1. As an ebook supporter I believe the switch from deadtree to digital will be sooner rather than later. In developing countries like ours though deadtree will (sadly) continue to be the standard for years to come.

  2. I think eBooks are not much cheaper as there is a big cost associated with them. Its true that by using eBooks, we can reduce the paper cost, but what about the cost of providing IT environment to students in school, while technology becomes obsolete after every 2nd year. Yes I am talking about hardware required, which are updated regularly by Computer companies.

    Zubair Lodhi

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