Digital Homeschool - ebooks vs. online
Our first year of homeschooling was not until we were already on the road. I decided to start with a "box" curriculum and to just order the standard core curriculum in each grade. I figured this would be my babystep into homeschooling the 4 girls. I remember when the first books arrived, they came in 3 boxes! To most people this would not be a issue, but since we were condensing a family of 7 into just a few hundred square feet, that seemed excessive. Nonetheless, I decided it was a good start.
The first thing that I tried was to personally scan a week's worth of work and import it into the Goodnotes app, which allows the kids to both view and write on the texts.I was happy with both Genius scan (the scanning app that I used) and Goodnotes, but the process was too time consuming to continue. In addition, I learned a couple of things about digital books:
1 -It is valuable to have the whole book, and not just a days' work available. One child was asked to define her vocab words. I had to scan the whole glossary.
2 - It is hard to reference another book. For example, looking up answers for a history workbook. It is hard to have the 2 texts side-by-side, especially using ipads.
3 - Lengthy handwriting was sloppy and cumbersome.
As we went through the school year, I took some time to look into a more portable curriculum.I found a few things.
1 - The primary grades really want to be paper-based so that kids can get a good foundation in writing and holding a pencil. They can learn to read by following along with their finger.
2 - There were options available for web-based school. Many of these were in FLASH, which is not supported on the ipad. After having 3 kids use a flash-based curriculum for 2 months with a solid internet connection, I saw how fast the connection was bogged down. We rarely have a strong connection when traveling and have zero connection when driving (which is a great time to get school out of the way).
3 - Ebooks seemed like the best option, but they are pretty much non-existent in elementary school. I can understand the publishers' hestation to this since a downloadable copy is much easier to copy or share. I can see even in our book curriculum, they rely heavily on workbooks that will need to be purchased each year instead of passed along to siblings.
This year I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was fairly happy with the curriculum itself, my complaint was with the storage of it. Michael came accross an article comparing different scanning services. 1dollarscan.com seemed like a viable option, so I decided to give it a try. This is how it works:
I ordered my school books as normal. I sorted through them and choose to keep paper copies of all the work books and early readers. I made a big stack of the texts that I wanted scanned.
Then, I signed up for a premium account through 1dollarscan. This allowed 100 sets of 100 pages to be scanned each month. The cost was just under $100. I figured I could scan my whole curriculum on 1 month's subscription. They really made it easy to send in the books. The premium subscription just asks you to sign and print an agreement and put your member number on your box. You do NOT have to send an inventory of the books or page numbers. I sent them 2 large boxes of books. The shipping was about $30 to send them via media mail.
The turn time was very quick. Within 2 weeks, including shipping time they had e-mailed me a link saying my downloads were ready. Then I selected to have them optimized for ipads. It took about 24-48 hours for them to go through and trim the margins and compress the files for the ipads. I was able to download a full version and the ipad optimized version. During the scanning process, they cut the spines of the book and they recycle the paper. You do not get back the original book, which keeps the copyright to one-owner and also saves on shipping costs.
The download was not as smooth as I had hoped. They advertised that they would put them right into my dropbox. This did not happen. I notice now they are advertising that feature as "coming soon." They advised that I download my files within 14 days. I had cancelled my monthly subscription to avoid the renewal fee, but got nervous when I was unable to get things downloaded. We were on the road and when I tried to use their "downloader" I kept running into glitches. It was clear that the bulk downloader was developed by a third-party with poor code and broken English. I e-mailed the company, but got no response.
When we arrived at my mom's house, we were well past the 14 day download period. My files were still safe and sound on the account page and I was able to download them on the first try. It could have been that my internet connection on the road was not stable enough to manage the downloads. Either way, it was a relief to know that I had the files in my possession.
After the trouble downloading the files, I was hoping that I could hook up the ipads to my computer with a wired connection and just drag and drop the files. Unfortunately, my ipads were not normally synced to my computer, so that was not an option. I was able to import the files individually from the Goodnotes app. The ipad compressed versions imported within a few seconds each.
The big win of the day was when the girls rushed into the room and begged to pull the ipads from me so that they could start their school work. They were excited because this process meant that we were going to assign an ipad to each grade level and the kids could customize the apps and content to their preferences. There would be no more "ipad switch" time. There would be no more begging over which kids got to play on which minecraft world and no risk of younger kids spending all the starfruit that the older kids earned in fruit ninja. I was able to remove all the pre-school games and find a few new educational apps for middle-school kids. They immediately embraced playing educational games again.