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South Carolina OKs Digital ‘Techbooks’ for Statewide Use

The state is gearing up to expand the use of e-books for STEM-related subjects in K-8 and some high school classes, in place of traditional textbooks. Proponents say digital texts are easier to transport and update.

The South Carolina State Board of Education is going with e-books to teach science from kindergarten through eighth grade, plus high school-level earth and space classes, according to a news release last month from the digital textbook company Discovery Education. The move comes as schools across the state and country increasingly adopt e-books in place of traditional textbooks due to their cost-effectiveness and ability to be updated regularly.

According to Discovery Education, state education officials endorsed the company’s “Science Techbook” as a core instructional resource during the state’s formal adoption process for K-12 instructional materials. The program, accessible through the company’s digital K-12 learning platform, offers virtual lessons on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) subjects, as well as teacher guides to help with lesson planning.

“The phenomena-driven learning experiences the Science Techbook makes possible will help South Carolina’s students develop the skills and gather the knowledge needed for future success,” said Anna Strassner, Discovery Education’s director of educational partnership, in a public statement.

According to South Carolina Department of Education spokesman Ryan Brown, the e-book was selected by the state’s Instructional Materials Advisory Committee, made up of educators and instructional experts who meet annually to formulate recommendations to the board for state funding. He said funding will be determined when state lawmakers convene for a legislative session next week.

Though some schools in the state had access to the tool as early as 2015, when officials first gave teachers the green light to use it, Discovery Education spokesman Stephen Wakefield said schools had yet to fully embrace the program and other similar e-books as a potential replacement for hardcover texts. Now, he said, schools are expanding their use of digital resources on an unprecedented scale.

“Fast forward to 2022, and the pandemic greatly accelerated the digital transition,” Wakefield said in an email to Government Technology. “Digital transitions that took sometimes years were condensed into weeks as school systems deployed the infrastructure — devices, hot spots, digital content — and professional learning needed to make digital learning really happen.”

Discovery Education’s Senior VP of Education Partnerships Rob Warren said interest among schools looking to adopt the Science Techbook and K-12 digital platforms has grown as educators seek out new tools to provide both in-person and online course lessons. The company’s e-books are used by approximately 5.6 million students across all 50 states and in Canada, according to the company’s website.

Warren said California also adopted the e-book for K-8 students about a month before South Carolina education officials made their state funding requests, with schools in New Hampshire, Nevada and Mississippi also expanding their use of the K-12 platform and e-books amid ongoing efforts to digitize instruction.

“There already was a shift toward leveraging digital resources six or seven years ago, and there’s a multitude of reasons for that. One is that it’s much more cost effective [to adopt] a digital platform versus traditional textbooks, just from the sheer logistics of shipping and all that,” he said. “Recently with COVID, this overnight shift to virtual hybrid learning environments has thrust the need for having equitable access to digital resources with engaging content that’s up to date, current and aligned to standards.

“A number of states have required a traditional textbook and then a digital compliment to that,” he added. “South Carolina has been really leading in asking for [digital] instructional materials.”

In addition to the company’s work with schools in South Carolina and California, Discovery Education partnered with the Delaware Department of Education and chemical company DuPont last month to provide K-12 teachers with digital learning resources designed for STEM lessons offered through their K-12 platform.

On the district level, Discovery Education launched a three-year initiative with Mississippi’s Vicksburg Warren School District last year to build upon schools’ STEM lessons with its digital learning platform. Most recently, officials at Hoke County Schools in North Carolina adopted the Discovery Education K-12 learning platform and Science Techbook as a curriculum resource.

“School districts are finding new, engaging ways to bring students’ natural love of technology with their innate curiosity to prepare them for life beyond the classroom,” Wakefield said. “I think school districts are really focused on smoothing that pathway … They’re looking for ways to supercharge that pathway.”
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.