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As the educational technology specialist for National Heritage Academies, I’ve seen a familiar story repeated throughout the last year and a half: Students have had to leave some of the most valuable resources behind in the classroom, while learning remotely at home.
This fall, however, most schools have started a new chapter that puts a premium on in-person learning, with remote options available if needed. During a time when students needed reading materials quickly, digital books filled a void. But now, in our second pandemic school year, we’re past the point of Band-Aid solutions. Digital books have carved out an important place for themselves in our students’ day-to-day learning, for three key reasons: 24/7 availability, variety for choice reading and the easy ability to curate collections based on themes and interest.
Digital books offer anytime, anywhere access
With so much at stake this year when it comes to our students’ learning, digital books are the obvious choice for efficiently distributing reading materials.
Ebooks and audiobooks can be downloaded and read offline at any time, allowing students to read at home, breaking down the barrier of internet access. Furthermore, as COVID-19 outbreaks continue, students must have quality reading options that are available no matter where they’re learning. Digital books provide that bridge.
Students read more when they have more choice & voice
Students are excited about the variety of digital books available to them, which in turn has generated a love of pleasure reading among many of them. For example, graphic novels are a huge hit among middle- and elementary-schoolers, though they’re not traditionally assigned by teachers. Some of the top titles include the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Dog Man series. Newer titles and nonfiction books that serve as guides to activities, such as coding, are also some of students’ top picks.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging signs of success is when students ask for more copies of specific books or request new titles be added to the collection. This allows digital librarians to build collections that will promote further reading not just now, but in the future.
Curated collections spark students’ curiosity
As schools pivot to trending themes or current events inspire curiosity, it can be difficult to curate relevant book collections for schools using only print books, even if a school does have its own centralized library. Digital books provide new opportunities to create more universally accessible collections that address themes such as social-emotional learning, diversity and social justice.
While we’re still rolling out digital books, plans are also in the works for books clubs, whether by region or in each school. With digital, one option is to choose a simultaneously accessible book around a theme and then meet either in person or online to discuss. Plus, some novels are available at different reading levels and in different formats, making it possible to involve readers of all grade levels and abilities at once.
Librarians and technology specialists working at the forefront of the digital books industry allow these programs to evolve as collections grow. Book vendors with their own team of librarians can alert digital book companies to additional titles that get students excited, revealing gaps that can be filled in the companies’ collections.
Digital books provide long-term road map for reading success
Digital books bring us closer together than ever before. While once considered a stop-gap solution to get resources to students quickly during the pandemic, our students are now embracing ebooks and audiobooks, making them crucial to expanding literacy.
Though there’s no crystal ball to predict what will happen in the future, tech decisions must be made that will satisfy students’ needs, no matter where or how they are learning — and digital is just the beginning of the next chapter.
Alexandra Brown is the educational technology specialist for National Heritage Academies with a masters degree in educational technology and a masters degree in library and information science with a concentration on school libraries. She believes that “every book its reader” is especially important in school libraries where all books have a place in the library, even if only a few readers might choose to read that book.
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