The Cyberschool Challenge
"One of the reasons [for shunning textbooks] is that our teachers develop the courses according to the standards in a course, and didn't want the textbook to drive what the course content would be," Lentz says.
In a nutshell, e-school teachers prefer digital content over traditional paper-based books because they're determined to do things differently. But the ability to gain almost total control over their courseware is appealing to educators on all sides of the e-school equation.
Indeed, teachers in traditional schools are increasingly turning to easy-to-use electronic publishing tools to build their own e-content. As with e-schools, e-content developed 'by teachers, for teachers' has enormous potential to undermine textbook sales.
"More and more teachers are using Web sites the way teachers [once] used film strips or videos to enhance instruction," says Katherine Endacott, president and CEO of Class.com, a developer of courseware for cyberschools.
At CoolSchool (Cyber Oregon Online School), in Eugene, Ore., instructors electronically author their own courseware, which can run 400 pages or more. Teachers at Florida's Virtual School are also developing their own multimedia courseware.
One reason teachers are authoring their own content is the dearth of quality electronic materials available from the major textbook publishers. E-books in general proved to be a false start.
E-books from major publishers often require proprietary readers, and have digital rights restrictions that encumber their use, such as limits on how many copies can be printed or shared.
That maintains the status quo among textbook publishers, but doesn't sit well with cyberschool administrators and educators.
"E-books didn't seem to change [the publisher's] operations or delivery as much as people thought it would," Endacott says. "There's a vested interest in keeping things the way they are."