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Textbooks go virtual at high school

Nov. 10, 2015

Digital textbooksSchalmont High School students are going virtual when it comes to textbooks in several classes this school year.

Interactive e-books, Techbooks, virtual labs and more are becoming a standard part of the innovative methods of teaching that blends technology and learning in a more active, involved way for students in Schalmont Central School District.

“We want to make sure our students have the same skills as others in the Capital Region,” High School Principal Imran Abbasi said. “And as more colleges transition to digital textbooks, we want to make sure students are used to using both e-books and traditional textbooks.”

Students in teacher Becky Remis’ earth science class are piloting the Discovery Education Techbook this year. More than a traditional e-book, a Techbook integrates multimedia resources including video, audio, text and interactive assessments.

“It’s a really powerful tool,” Remis said. “It gives you access to every video Discovery made, assignments that other teachers built and professional development within the system.”

Digital textbooksSimilarly, students in Paula Della Villa’s human biology class are combining a virtual textbook from McGraw Hill Connect with the company’s Learn Smart program. Learn Smart embeds assessments, and as students read the passages, they are prompted to answer questions about what they’ve read. If they get an answer wrong, they are presented with a link for more information on the topic and are given follow up questions until they demonstrate proficiency on the subject. This is the same textbook system used by Schenectady County Community College, and the students in the Schalmont class can earn college credit for the course from the college.

“With McGraw Hill Connect, I can decide where I am placing emphasis within a chapter, and the assessments will adjust accordingly,” Della Villa said. “I can go into Learn Smart at any point and see how much of an assignment students have completed.”

Della Villa has also introduced animated virtual labs through which her students can replicate real-world, college-level experiments online.

“It creates a truly active learning environment that can transcend the classroom,” she said.

 Digital textbooksThere are several benefits to the virtual textbooks used in conjunction with Chromebooks in the district. They allow for customized, individualized learning for each student, provide real-time feedback and updates to the instructor, and allow for direct communication between the student and teacher within the actual digital assessment or assignment.

“It is really easy for me to see where a student may be struggling in an assignment and give them the tools they need to work through it,” Della Villa said.

The transition from a lecture-based classroom to a digital one required a change in mindset for the students. Students now are required to take a more active role in their education.

“It shifts the responsibility of learning from me to them,” Remis said. “I provide them with guidance, resources and tools, but they have to use them.”