We’ve been exploring how to provide digital literacy resources for our students and teachers to improve access to digital text. For the past 3 years we have explored various tools and platforms. When we started the biggest frustration was that publishers weren’t on board so we found digital copies of text to be very difficult to purchase and use for our students. We tried Overdrive for some time primarily to provide our students with independent digital books that they could load on their personal eBook device. The main problem with this service is that you have to pay a yearly fee to keep it ‘live’ on top of spending money to buy digital titles for students to download and borrow. The good thing is that it provides the site and maintains this portal to facilitate the students access. The bad thing is that you need to have a process in place to keep student accounts up to date. It also didn’t accommodate for class set access, but rather was strictly for one-to-one devices whether personal devices, or school devices. The other difficult issue is that you invest in the service; when you end that service, you lose all your purchased books.
That, we have found is one of the main issues with these services. You have to buy into the best service from day one, because if you decide that another one is better later you primarily lose what you have invested in so far and start from scratch. Some districts around our area have invested in Follett or MackinVIA. As a region we are moving to MackinVIA which is where as a district we have decided to invest. But, with that said there are still issues with the publishers and the quality of the resources available. What we are finding:
- eBooks that are primarily pdfs. Pros: They open up on any device and can use your ‘speak’ feature to have it read to you. Cons: To me these aren’t what I think about when I think about rich dynamic digital eBooks. What I want to see are books with links and embedded media for students to truly engage in the topic.
- eBooks that are like a software or video of the book. Pros: These are usually entertaining to students and provide various other features such as ‘quizzes’. Cons: They vary in features, some are only colorful digital books that you turn the pages. With many the only sound is the turning of the pages. Again, even though they have more features many still don’t include rich dynamic media. An exception to this is: Scholastic TrueFlix. This resource has great features, including video, database and website links as well as quizzes to show what you learned. TumbleBook Library provides an ‘electronic picture book which you can read, or have read to you.’ These books aren’t popular titles, but do include a large variety.
- There are also subscriptions you can get to platforms that offer access to books through their website. Services like Big Universe offer a variety of titles, quizzes and the ability for students to write and publish books within their website. Many of these subscriptions are books that aren’t popular titles, and have a range of quality so you’ll want to preview them first.
- Audio books: Like any other audio book that you play for a listening center these are pretty straight forward. The key is to find the best platform that provides the most titles that your students would be interested in. Also it is key to make sure the readers are engaging to students. I was just told about Tales2Go, which has various subscription plans from individual, group, school to district. This resource offers schools multiple book access at a time of popular titles K-8. This means that you don’t have to buy multiple copies of the book, but they come with multiple copy access.
We are also finding that many aren’t iPad compatible, but many will tell you they are working on it. Which of course brings up the device you are using. As an institution you need to think about where, when and how your students will need to access the eBooks you provide. For us we have iPads in K-2 and are looking to expand to Chromebooks for 3-8. For this reason our goal is to make sure what we purchase is accessible through many devices.
Of course you can also purchase ibooks from iTunes and through your school’s Volume Purchasing. These books range in quality, but many are amazingly done well with dynamic links and embedded media. You can also purchase popular titles through here. The only issue is that these are meant to be 1:1 and the licensing is designed to be one copy to one person (ie one iTunes account). For shared devices this won’t work.
As I explore digital literacy resources I will continue to blog about them. If you have a great resource, or have found another way to manage these resources please add your comments below. We’d love to hear about them.