I've been a complete geek since I was old enough to even say the word. I would have loved to have PDA and eBook technology available when I was in high school.
When making digital formats available, publishers can actually increase their profit margin. Because of reduction of production costs (paper, ink, etc.), electronic formats could be cheaper than textbooks, but in the bigger picture, provide the better profit margin. Distribution is wholly online, or cheap-to-ship CDs, and not thousands of pounds of paper books. This significantly cuts down on distribution costs as well.
Futher savings can be made on the publishing end when new editions are needed, as they can quite easily issue addendums and/or partial replacements (depending on the file format), instead of incurring a whole new round of production and distribution costs. This would make it much more economical to keep the textbooks up to date - which is a serious problem in schools. I often had arguments with my teachers because new facts contradicted the science books.
The matter of backups for electronic media is quite simple to take care of. While initially, it might be costly to setup, having a couple of kiosks in school hallways or offices would make it quite simple for a student to reload their particular etextbooks if they upgraded their personal PDA, or the file became corrupted, etc. Backups on the school level are even less complex.
The simple facts are:
- CDs are cheaper and more efficient to create, store, distribute, and replace.
- PDA technology (Hiebook, eBookMan, Palm, PocketPC based) is getting cheaper and cheaper.
- File management for archives, along with appropriate DRM standards are not that complex to work out.
- In a work world which is almost completely immersed in technology in almost every field, the use of such technology in high schools would surely better prepare our students for the "real world." No, students should not learn to completely rely on calculators and spell-checkers, but face it, everyone else does.
- A custom eTextbook device could be engineered to meet the specific needs of such a system. The sheer market size for such a device would make it very cheap when purchased in large quantities (at a school system, county, or state level).
- Most of the software infrastructure for such a system (eTextbook device included) is, or can be made, available via open source licenses
Really, the only things keeping such a large technology advancement out of our schools are greedy companies and timid politicians.