The Overall Context for Making the Digital Transition
There are several interrelated factors cited in Out of Print that are crucial in moving from a textbook-based world to one that is digital. While the factors and their individual importance may vary depending upon where states and districts currently are on the path to digital instructional materials, the following are integral to success. Each of these are explored in more detail in Out of Print and in related sections of this Guide to Implementing Digital Learning:
- Sustainable funding for devices. While digital content can be implemented successfully with a less advantageous ratio than 1-to-1, in order to take full advantage of what digital content can bring, each student needs to have a device fully accessible, in school and our of school.
- Robust internet connectivity. The use of digital content calls for ample amounts of broadband and wi-fi that can support video activities taking place in the classrooms, general school operations, while at the same time some of the students are taking online tests.
- Up-to-date policies. In every state that has made a big push for the use of digital content in schools, legislators have had to update how their states legally define “textbook,” “instructional materials,” and similar terminology in order to encompass the use of other kinds of educational materials.
- Quality control and alignment to standards. There are multiple professed reasons for quality control, the most common of which are to ensure the materials are accurate, that they align to standards, that they are bias-free and that they adhere to local and state laws and policies.
- State and local leadership buy-in. The most critical part of a successful digital learning conversion is strong support from top district leaders who can communicate the vision to multiple stakeholders and ensure the appropriate resources are in place to carry it out.
Another factor is the “grain size” of content – whether educators use a comprehensive curriculum or many pieces of content from many different places. Some have compared this to the full album CD versus the iTunes approach where people can select and purchase single cuts from a CD rather than the entire CD. While different in scope for content for a subject area, the analogy rings true to many people. For years, districts have acquired textbooks that cover the entire curriculum of a course or subject area for a year. As districts transition from print to digital, the full curriculum approach is still available in a digital format, but also the options for content that they have available to use grow exponentially due to the ease of access to digital content, and the flexibility of the distribution of digital content. With the traditional textbook, educators not only received a full year’s content, but also the sequencing of that content based upon the opinion of experts in the field and suggestions for how that content could be taught to students and assessed. The ‘selecting from many’ approach provides great flexibility and possibly more personalized content for students, but requires in some cases that educators create a scope and sequence and other learning materials around that content. Districts need to weigh the pros and cons of those approaches and ensure that professional learning is matched appropriately.
A focus on teachers
Much of the attention right now in schools and districts is on making the transition from printed materials such as textbooks to digital classroom content. As schools succeed in acquiring a sufficient supply of student computing devices and ample broadband and wireless networking infrastructure, the next step is to prepare educators.
Most programs that have made the successful move to the use of digital content have given their teachers a school year’s worth of preparation or a summer full of information and activities prior to transition to digital. That seems to be an optimal amount of time to get educators comfortable using the computing devices themselves, learn how to integrate digital content into their lessons, and work with cohorts to begin restructuring lesson plans and teaching materials.
Programs may launch implementation of the technology by grade level or subject area to focus on small successes and create best practices within the school or district. An obvious place to start might be with math and English language arts, subjects where many schools are in the process of adopting new curriculum to help teach to Common Core and other state learning standards.
Within the individual classroom teachers need to feel comfortable and encouraged to try out even a single lesson using digital content rather than traditional printed curriculum and then to share the results with their colleagues. Sometimes these efforts will not have the outcomes expected; sometimes they will fail; other times they will spark additional experimentation and re-energized teachers.
The newest generation of teachers can help drive the adoption of digital content in the classroom. Some colleges of education are putting much greater emphasis in their programs on helping preservice teachers understand how to integrate subject content and teaching practices with the use of technology. While these teachers who are in their first teaching jobs are gaining valuable insights from more experienced teachers on how to manage a classroom and interact with parents, for example, they can help invigorate learning with their experiences in using digital resources.
Educators also can learn about making the transition to digital content while furthering their own education by streaming professional development lessons and collaborating online via voice, text, and video with peers in formal and informal learning settings.