By Troy Lambert
There are debates over which technology is better, how far we should go with introducing virtual reality, and the impact this technology, that is second nature to digital natives, have on their education, both good and bad.
The White House has been slow to catch up with digital trends. Just recently, they acknowledged the importance of big data and the data science industry, creating a new office for data science and appointing the first Chief Data Scientist in U.S. history.
In the same fashion, the Department of Education has begun the #GoOpen initiative, encouraging educators and their districts to use Openly Licensed Educational Resources (OERs) in their classrooms. This program encourages the use of free online resources in schools and libraries across the country.
At the end of February, the Open eBooks program was launched. This program provides those in need access with an app that provides a library of ebooks free of charge. To make this possible, the White House partnered with the Digital Public Library of America, First Book, and The New York Public Library, as well as digital books distributor Baker & Taylor and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
As a result, hundreds of ebooks—both classic and modern—are now available.
For Colin Rogister, a White House Special Advisor who currently helps lead the Administration’s ConnectED initiative, this launch hits close to home after having taught second grade at a low-income elementary school in California.
“As a former teacher in a Title I school, I know an app like Open eBooks would have been a game changer for my students,” he says. “Teachers and librarians are always trying to find new ways to motivate students.”
How to Get Started
Signing up with the app involves just a few simple steps, starting by registering at openbooks.net to get student codes. These codes can be used to download the app to a tablet or smartphone. Once installed, students have access to the library.
Once signed up, what are ways you can use this app to get students to read more? Here are three ideas to get you started.
1. Allow Students to Read on Their Own Devices
I know many educators are concerned about the distractions that might come with allowing electronic devices in the classroom, especially those belonging to the student. The debate over BYOD and the classroom is a blooming one, but the advantage in this case is that students are already familiar with the device they already use, and are more likely to read at home if the app is on their own tablet or phone.
2. Encourage Reading in Groups
Encouraging students to read a digital book with a group of their peers encourages them to become familiar with and utilize the Open eBooks app. It also helps them develop other skills:
- Group discussion promotes social interaction
- Students help each other overcome reading weaknesses
- Vocabulary is expanded
- Comprehension skills increase
These skills are not much different than those enhanced by any other reading group, but students may be more inclined to participate when apps and digital learning are included—especially if they are on devices that are easily accessible.
3. Make Guided Reading a Digital Experience
Do you have students who are hesitant to participate in guided reading with paper books? Try the same tactic with digital content, instead. You can read along on your device rather than looking over the shoulder of the student, decreasing their nervousness.
In this case, you can still offer instant feedback. What’s more, you can also take notes about student progress on the device as they’re reading, allowing you to react with additional instruction or alternate assignments immediately.
These are only a few small ways Open eBooks can enhance the reading programs you already have in place in your classroom, and one thing seems clear: it’s easier to get students to pick up a device than a paper book for reading. If that’s what it takes to inspire the beginning of a lifetime of reading and learning, who are we to argue?
“Clearly, the Open eBooks program can provide another digital gateway for millions of children to develop a love of reading,” says Sari Feldman, President of the American Library Association, “and what smarter investment in our future could we make than getting books in front of kids?”