Digital versions of textbooks work well for some students. But there are still those who overwhelmingly prefer the paper-and-ink books that have been in classrooms for generations. A recent story in the Washington Post reveals how a certain school district that adopted web-based textbooks has swiftly changed its plan.

Many e-textbooks require an Internet connection, which some students don’t always have at their fingertips. (Image credit: Danny Sullivan)

The Fairfax County school district in Virginia recently adopted a plan to put digital math textbooks in the hands of students in all grades within the school system. The district had made this determination based on trials that were done for students in social studies classes. But after lots of complaints about the web-based education plan, the school district quickly turned around and made an about-face to instead utilize paper textbooks. The district has ordered tens of thousands of traditional textbooks for students, spending more than $2 million on them.

According to the article, many students did not have access to computers in order to use their Internet-based class materials. Some students found the e-textbooks “confusing and difficult to use.” Others who were affected by power outages during Hurricane Sandy in late October were unable to get online, meaning there was no way they could access their books, study, or complete homework assignments from these materials. Many parents complained to the school district that their home Internet connections were not fast enough and that the materials could not be accessed using certain Apple devices due to incompatibility issues. Because of these wide-ranging issues, many parents spent $100 each to buy paper copies of the math textbooks that their kids needed so they could use them without having to worry about technical issues. It was eventually voted on to allow principals within the district to purchase hard copies of these textbooks, which has taken place already.

This example of digital textbook problems in Fairfax County schools is not an isolated incident. Although electronic versions of academic materials have become increasingly popular with students of all ages, there is still a hill to climb in terms of working out the kinks before these kinds of textbooks can be implemented on a large-scale basis. One of the major issues that can arise is having Internet access in order to view these textbooks. Perhaps using PDF or Word document files is the solution to ensure that students can use their textbooks without the need of a connection to the web. But if you take the potential for power outages into consideration, continuing to use paper textbooks still remains a tried-and-true tradition that will likely hold up in the education system for years to come.