Thick, heavy textbooks give Sonam Virk sore hands when she carries them from class to class then home for homework.
"My bio books are ginormous," said the incoming Enochs High School senior.
Virk said she supports the idea of using computers more for learning, but also worries that not all students have computers or Internet access at home.
Incoming Davis High School senior Johnny Tran agrees, noting that some of his friends come over to his house to use his computer for schoolwork.
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Gov. Schwarzenegger recently launched a call for free digital textbooks for high school science and math courses, the first such initiative in the nation, according to the governor's office. The materials would have to align with state academic standards.
State Secretary of Education Glen Thomas was in Modesto Friday speaking with county district superintendents and heads of technology and curriculum about the initiative.
Schwarzenegger hopes the electronic media will save school districts money in buying the books every few years and save the environment by using less paper. Districts spend nearly $350 million on textbooks each year.
Organizers hope to have some digital books ready for use this fall. There's no indication if the books would be available via the Internet or as a pdf document stored on computers.
The No. 1 benefit, Tran said, is time management: Instead of lugging around six or seven texts for study groups or reading, all students would need is one computer.
Most Stanislaus County school technology leaders agreed with the concept but said schools are nowhere near implementation.
"I'd love to do that," said Scott Kuykendall, a Modesto City Schools curriculum director. "I seriously think it's the next step; I just don't see that as next year."
Access and training
Two points of concern for educators are teacher training and student access to the digital materials.
"You can't just hand (teachers) something and say 'Use it,' " Kuykendall said. Teacher training is hard to come by in the recession.
Although the digital textbook effort is focused first on high school students because they're more likely to have access to technology than younger children, not every student has a computer or Internet access at home. And not every classroom has computers for digital textbook reading or studying.
In Ceres, for example, about 60 percent to 70 percent of students had a computer or the Web at home -- before the economy plunged, according to Carey Brock, coordinator of technology at the Ceres Unified School District.
As families struggle to make ends meet, they've dropped the Internet or computer expense. Now, Brock estimates that only half of students have access to either or both at home.
"Digital textbooks are a positive thing. These kids are all multimedia kids. Whatever makes it a better, more vivid education for students," she said. "Our biggest issue would be access to the technology."
Laptops for take-out
Some districts are trying pilot programs in which they buy laptops for students to check out and take home, but that's a few years off locally.
As for this fall, the digital materials for math must be aligned to the standards in geometry, Algebra II, trigonometry or calculus. The science materials must be aligned to the standards for physics, chemistry, biology/life sciences or earth sciences.
Submitted media will be reviewed by a team of educators by August, then released for teacher use.
"The time has come for California to be the leader in promoting this effort, especially now when school districts are struggling to survive the current budget crisis," State Superintendent Jack O'Connell said in support of the program. "To help schools reduce expenses, we must determine whether free educational materials already found on the Internet are suitable for use by schools, teachers and students and whether these digital textbooks are aligned to rigorous state standards."
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2339.