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 But should today’s students still have to consult hefty—and often outdated—printed texts?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).

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2 Responses to “SETDA urges shift to digital instruction”

As usual, policy makers are driving the push to rush ahead and implement a huge expensive shift across the board before doing any small scale trials to see if something is a good idea.

The advantages of making a switch from print to digital, which are clearly spelled out in this article, are important and are easy to see; what might not be so obvious are any potential problems. And I, for one, would like to know AHEAD OF TIME that the potential drawbacks have been explored and addressed.

Apparently, reading digital text on e-readers makes the information harder to retain. (This might not be such a big deal when carrying around a Kindle or Nook for casual reading, but suddenly becomes important educationally.) See this article:

This article lists a host of different considerations that need to be addressed:

And here is an actual (non-partisan) study:

There are also lots of “studies” around that have been conducted by companies who stand to make a bunch of money in the e-book market which say that college students love digital textbooks, but clearly these cannot be considered unbiased.

I think M is right, we do need to look at the good and the bad, but with state budgets continually cutting funding, schools are being forced to go to digital books. Our district hasn’t bought new books in at least 5 years. And I believe there is no longer funding for text books from the state. So there aren’t many choices for keeping our students abreast of the latest research and knowledge, especially in science. Check out, an amazing website of free books and more. It is a consortium in California, they have done an amazing job for science and math. Check it out. I use there site a lot for our graduation recovery program.