SETDA urges shift to digital instruction

By Meris Stansbury, Associate Editor
September 25th, 2012

The report acknowledges that policy changes regarding instructional materials are not enough to ensure that digital content is used in classrooms effectively.

Everyone remembers lugging a 20-pound textbook. But should today’s students still have to consult hefty—and often outdated—printed texts? And should states and districts still pay for resources that few students now find relevant?

A new report says “no”—and it urges states and districts to stop delaying the inevitable shift from print to digital instruction. It also provides examples of how some states are making this shift and overcoming the hurdles this involves.

The report, “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age,” is produced by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) with support from the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.

According to SETDA, states and districts spend $5.5 billion a year in core instructional content, yet many students are still using textbooks “made up of content that is seven to 10 years old.” In 2012, the organization says, it is still the exception—not the norm—that schools choose to use digital content, which “could be updated much more frequently,” as their primary source for teaching and learning.

For more news about digital instruction, see:

Albuquerque schools embrace ‘techbooks’ instead of textbooks

States moving slowly toward digital textbooks

Textbook-free schools share experiences, insights

SETDA acknowledges there are many reasons why most states and districts haven’t shifted to teaching primarily with digital content, but it says the gap is widening between what technology allows people to do in their personal lives and “how we’re educating our kids.”

The report offers examples of digital and open content/open educational resources (OER) initiatives led by states and districts, including lessons learned from these efforts—and it makes recommendations for policy makers, industry executives, and educators.

According to the report, a total of 22 states have introduced new definitions or funding flexibility that recognize digital materials as legitimate instructional resources; launched a digital textbook initiative; and/or launched an OER program. The keys to starting these initiatives, the report says, is having “strong state leadership, a culture of innovation, a belief in increased local flexibility in spending and content choice, and strong implementation plans.”

It urges states and districts to “commit to beginning the shift from print to digital instructional materials with the next major ‘textbook’ adoption cycle, completing the transition within the next five years” (or no later than the 2017-18 school year).