‘Everybody is plugged in’

Matthew Strother News editor

October 12, 2013

As Glenn Quiggle lectures his U.S. honors history students at Lafayette Christian School, they flit about on electronic tablets. They’re not perusing Facebook, though, or surfing the web – they’re following along with an electronic text, pulling up maps of areas Quiggle discusses, even clicking links to directly access the Articles of Confederation as he begins to talk about them.

The students are using school-issued eTextbooks to not only listen, but interact with the lesson. Each student gets access to electronic source materials, supplemental information and note-taking capabilities.

For Quiggle, the eTextbooks allow him to better engage students during lessons. He also believes their main advantage to students is flexibility.

“These are a lot more flexible,” he said. “They can use it like a regular textbook, or as a resource. It’s more versatile.”

Cloie Yarbrough, a junior in Quiggle’s U.S. honors history class, said the tablets make note-taking much easier. She can highlight text in her eTextbook and save it and notes she takes on the tablet.

“I can get on a computer at home and access the notes and everything, and anything I’ve highlighted. I can access it all from home,” Yarbrough said. “… The books for here used to be really big, so I don’t have to carry those. I can leave those at home.”

This year, three classrooms will use the eTextbooks for 10 classes in the upper school – seventh to 12th grades. Classes are Earth science, world cultures, world history, physical science and American history.

After each class, students leave the tablets in the classroom for the next group, but everything they’ve done is saved in a profile that they can access from any Internet-connected device. Lafayette contracted for the program with VitalSource Bookshelf, which has more than 1.6 million users on 6,000 campuses in 180 countries, according to the company.

The student or parent signs up for a free VitalSource Bookshelf account online, enters the special code from LCS and receives the eTextbook in his virtual bookshelf. The student can access eTextbooks by computer and mobile devices with Apple and Android operating systems.

“If you have a wifi connection or a data plan on an iPhone, you can be in the middle of the desert and get your chapter read,” said teacher Nate Shaw, who uses the eTextbooks in his seventh grade world studies class.

Students also said it lightens their carrying load.

“I like it, you don’t have to carry it in your back pack,” said David Curry, a senior in Quiggle’s U.S. honors history class. “… It’s also easier to look up vocabulary works and things like that. You don’t have to flip back to the index. It makes it easier to look up certain events. It gives me page numbers and then I can just go straight there.”

Curry said the ease of access to supplemental materials with the eTexts means he’s more likely to take advantage of them. It also helps that he doesn’t have to remember to bring a notebook home or to class, since all his notes are saved online.

Gunner Lankford, a seventh grader in Shaw’s world studies class, said that he preferred the ease of scrolling and clicking through the books over flipping through a traditional text. He wished he had the option in more classes.

Quiggle said “there’s no doubt” that tablets in class has increased student’s participation and interest. He said the interactive media suite that he uses to teach with the eBooks allows him to give students websites to look up for more information, and he usually finds the students will research and suggest more websites to pull resources from.

“We have some real clever kids in here,” he said. “These kids are all in the digital generation. I give them some good sites and they find three to four other good ones. They are resourceful and becoming more attentive in the course.”

Katie Leuken, a seventh grader in Shaw’s world studies class, said she doesn’t consider herself an electronics person, but finds using the eTexts has helped her learn more about using electronic devices as a learning resource. Shaw said the added visual stimulus and interactivity of the devices really seem to help the students learn.

“It is very interactive,” Quiggle said. “It helps the students; it helps spur them with quizzes and discussions as well.”

Quiggle said that there was an adjustment period for the students getting used to using the devices for daily assignments, but many were quick to catch on. Also, most students prefer using the tablets now, even those who initially said they preferred textbooks.

The eTexts give students “a lot resources, it allows us to expose the student to multimedia and important context of the subject matter,” Shaw said.

Shaw said the there still can be technical issues with the devices. Tuesday, one student was unable to log in to his account, so Shaw directed him to grab a textbook to follow along until he could get the issue straightened out.

“There are technical issues, but there are issues with textbooks as well, like ‘I left it at home,’ but in this case it’s, ‘I can’t log on to my account,” Shaw said, adding that a quick email to technical support will usually fix any problems.

LCS Headmaster John Cipolla said the main reason the school went with eTextbooks is because many universities are using the model, and he wants students to be prepared. He added the apparent advantages to learning and lightening students’ backpack loads as major factors.

Although some people think the model is also more cost-effective, Cipolla said, it isn’t. The cost of a yearly contract with VitalSource Bookshelf is overall more expensive than buying textbooks that would remain in use for several years, but Cipolla felt the advantages outweigh the additional cost.

Cipolla added that the deal also includes physical textbooks as backups, or for students who may not have Internet access at home. The move didn’t require the school to increase its wireless bandwidth to handle the devices, Cipolla said.

The project was actually funded mostly by donations from elementary parents when school officials pitched the project to them at the fall open house. Cipolla said he had expected to request funding from both elementary and upper school parents for it, but donations were sufficient with only the elementary parents to proceed. Upper school parents instead donated to an engineer’s garden that currently is in preparation stages.

Looking forward, “I think it’s going to be the norm,” Cipolla said of the eTexts.

“We’ll expand into different subjects as we go. … I believe every upper school student is using them in at least one subject, and they’ll all bring that experience with them to the next level.”