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School district wants to turn to e-readers


The Hillsborough County school district wants to get students hooked on books with Nooks.

At Gaither High School in North Tampa, the idea already is working.

District officials are trying to figure out how to expand the use of portable electronic reading devices, commonly referred to as e-readers, and determining how to offset the costs.

The school board had a workshop Thursday on the topic.

“We can’t just think of the cost of the devices and the cost of the books,” said David Steele, chief information and technology officer with the district. “You also have to take into account the cost of the infrastructure.”

The devices can cost as little as $99. But it can cost as much as $80,000 to set up a wireless network for an entire elementary school, Steele said. The estimated cost to outfit all schools with wireless is $24 million.

Gaither High School purchased 52 Nooks from Barnes & Noble using a grant from Bealls Department Stores.

“They are just fabulous,” said Patricia Albrecht, the school’s reading coach. “The students stay engaged the entire time they are reading, which is not always the case with a book.”

There is a different feel with an e-reader compared to an old-fashioned textbook.

Students think reading is cool now, Albrecht said. That helps them read more, which helps their reading ability and vocabulary usage.

Gaither students who have used the Nooks say they don’t have to worry about ripping pages with an e-reader and that they aren’t as apt to fall asleep with one like they would a book. Others like it because if they don’t know the meaning of a word or how to pronounce it, they can use the dictionary function of the Nook.

Teachers wish they had even more, said Principal Marie Whelan.

“They’re fighting over them,” Whelan said. “They all want them. They are all more comfortable using them.”

Board members wanted to know the district’s plan for buying more e-readers for schools and equipping the schools with the necessary infrastructure.

“It’s not like we have this all planned out,” Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said.

After all, there are more than 100 different versions of e-readers on the market, school officials said.

“One of the real difficulties with the whole e-reader is the changing landscape,” Steele said.

“They’re out there and they are changing frequently right now because they are in great demand. We have to tread carefully as far as how much we commit in one direction knowing tomorrow there could be better items.”

By 2015, state law requires that districts start moving toward having more textbooks available electronically.

Hillsborough school board member Doretha Edgecomb said she hopes e-readers don’t take over the landscape.

“Textbooks will always have a place,” she said. “I don’t want us to ever believe we will get rid of textbooks as a resource for teachers.”

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