The Cyberschool Challenge
TEXTBOOK PUBLISHING THREAT
With these and other reasons driving more students to choose logons over bus rides, the need for electronic textbooks will continue to grow. That's a bellwether for leading textbook publishers, such as McGraw-Hill; Addison Wesley; Holt, Rinehart and Winston; and all the rest.
Failure to respond to this small but undeniably expanding army could mean the difference between success or failure in the future of electronic publishing. Indeed, cyberschool administrators overwhelmingly eschew traditional hardcover textbooks, opting instead for purely electronic materials.
That's due, in part, because traditional textbooks are bulky, and expensive to ship, says Tom Layton, online learning consultant with Clarity Innovations Inc., in Eugene, Ore. Layton is also the founder of CyberSchool, the first public school distance learning program to offer high school credit courses on the Internet.
"You have one kid in one part of one state, another in Florida, and a third across town," Layton says. "To find those books and purchase them is difficult, so the process takes a long time, perhaps a month or longer."
Then there's the cost of mailing books. For Florida's FVS, shipping a full curriculum's worth of textbooks to 13,000 students would add up to a whopper of a postage bill—and then the e-school has to get the book back at the end of the term.
"Textbooks are big, heavy, and expensive," says Phyllis Lentz, director of global services for Florida's FVS. "If we buy a resource for every student in a course and ship it to that student, that can be very costly. Because we're a public school, we need to collect those resources back, and that can be real expensive if they don't send back [a bunch of] $68 books."
E-school managers also see themselves as pioneering a revolutionary model that's more than simply an electronic version of brick and mortar schools. It's a rare opportunity to rewrite the rules for developing curriculums, content, courseware, and teacher/student communications.