Leading Private School in the UK Releases Free Digital Textbooks

One of the U.K.’s top private schools is going digital. The Stephen Perse Foundation in Cambridge recently announced plans to publish 12 multimedia textbooks online that teachers across the world will be able to download for free.

The textbooks will cover an entire exam syllabus for IGCSE biology. The Cambridge IGCSE biology course is standard for 500,000 students across 160 countries, and the textbook will be free for all of them. This makes the Cambridge school the first school in the UK to publish such an extensive set of free online textbooks online.

“It’s important to us that these resources are being offered to the world without charge,” the school’s principal, Tricia Kelleher, told BBC News. “There is a world of learning and we want to continue to be at the hub of this approach.”

The books will be available through Apple’s iBooks online store, so students can download and read them on iPad tablets. And they’re not just scans of old paper textbooks. The multimedia files will feature extensions that can be accessed using the iPad’s touchscreen functionality.

Kelleher told BBC News that students are “hungry” for digital resources. The Stephen Perse Foundation has already ventured into the digital realm a few times. Other resources are available from the school online through iTunes U, and the school is at the forefront of using technology to customize course materials.

“The reception that we have received for bringing nearly 100 iTunes U courses to the world has been tremendous,” Kelleher said. “It’s about helping teachers to deliver the lessons that they have always wanted to, but now the technology allows it to happen.”

The Stephen Perse Foundation’s efforts have a distinct advantage over traditional textbooks: they can be updated to stay current, at minimal cost to the users and the school. There won’t be a need for teachers to wait for reprints and new editions while older books waste away in storage.

“Incorporating electronic textbooks in the classroom is one example of technology integration in education, and in order to be meaningful and beneficial, the digital content must be interactive and engaging,” says Peter Cohen of Riviera Schools. “The benefits of educational technology, however, extend far beyond the evolution of the textbook — successful tablet integration should change the way students process information, manipulate data, communicate with peers and teachers, and organize their learning systems and methods.”

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