Arizona's Vail School District, one of the first districts in the nation to move to an all-digital curriculum, used its textbook money to buy laptops—forcing the teachers to learn how to instruct differently.

Nearly one year after a pilot program that put Virginia’s fourth, seventh, and ninth grade social studies curriculum on an iPad, Virginia state officials say they have learned much from the implementation.

The program, which is a collaboration between education publishing giant Pearson and the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), was spawned from VDOE’s “Beyond Textbooks” initiative, which encourages schools to “explore the potential of wireless technology and digital textbooks to enhance teaching and learning.”

Now a year into the program, many challenges and benefits have emerged.

“We did find increased engagement, and there were really a lot more opportunities for self-directed learning,” said Tammy McGraw, VDOE’s educational technology director.

“Students clearly liked having access to the apps. They found it very engaging, and they also liked the fact that you could instantly access the internet from the same device. We were very encouraged by our initial results, and certainly it warrants further investigation.”

For more on digital textbooks, see:

Many U.S. schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

‘TV textbooks’ bring access to low-income Florida students

Custom curriculum publishing on the rise

Who needs a bulky textbook?

“One of the things we noted in hearing back from teachers is that with these devices in their hands, students were able to engage [in] independent learning and were able to get instant feedback based on their own performance,” said Jim Doris, director of emerging markets with Pearson School Social Studies. Teachers, he said, “were able to work individually with students and groups, and it freed up the teachers to circulate in the classroom.”

Pearson’s Kate Miller also pointed to the mobility that the iPad program gave teachers.

“Teachers saw themselves, rather than reciting or directing from in front of the classroom, as able to move around and interact more freely with the students,” said Miller. “The teacher doesn’t actually have to be at the head of the class. She can walk around the room with her dashboard, access all of the curriculum, and work with each child to individualize that curriculum.”

In addition, Doris said the iPad app was much more appealing to students.

“Students could [go] on the internet to satisfy their natural curiosity and could instantly get help from the teachers to answer questions,” he said.

The switch to the iPads was not without obstacles, however.

“One of the challenges was just change, just the newness,” said Doris. “The teachers had to learn to be comfortable with the iPad. I think they were also challenged by the fact that the students couldn’t take home their iPads.”

McGraw added that it’s critical to provide the proper support to educators.

“One of the things we found that is probably not unexpected, but I think it’s a good reminder to folks as they think about implementing these [kinds of programs], is we still need a lot of teacher support and professional development,” she said. “These devices provide new opportunities for both students and teachers, and so we need to do a good job in terms of making sure that teachers have the support they need so they’re not just using [the iPads] as a textbook replacement—in that, instead of reading the text from a printed page, the students are simply reading text from a screen.”

Doris said another challenge was students’ desire for more content: “The students wanted more. They wanted more games, they wanted more interactivity—they  were engaged so much by what they were doing that often their response was, ‘Give us more.’”

While Virginia schools swapped textbooks for iPads, the Vail School District in Tucson, Ariz., was one of the first in the nation to trade textbooks in for laptops seven years ago.

For more on digital textbooks, see:

Many U.S. schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

‘TV textbooks’ bring access to low-income Florida students

Custom curriculum publishing on the rise

Who needs a bulky textbook?

“When we implemented one-to-one [computing], we implemented it in a brand-new school, and the thing we did significantly differently is we did not supply students or teachers with any textbooks,” said Vail Superintendent Calvin Baker, a 2006 Tech-Savvy Superintendent Award winner from eSchool News. “We did it for financial reasons as much as anything else, but it turned out to be one of the best things in terms of instruction, because it forced everybody to do things differently.”

The district used its textbook money to buy the laptops, forcing the teachers to instruct differently.

“What we observed when we visited other one-to-one [computing] schools is it was still very easy and tempting for teachers to just refer back to the way they had been teaching. Our teachers didn’t have that opportunity, because they didn’t have textbooks,” Baker said.

The road to complete textbook independence was not easy.

“The greatest challenge was the completed transition to digital instruction materials, and that was also our greatest opportunity,” said Baker.

He said the program is ever-evolving to meet the needs of today’s students.

“The world has shifted dramatically since we planned our first one-to-one school seven years ago, and the most significant shift is the amount of powerful student devices,” Baker said. “It was relatively rare seven years ago for a student to have a laptop, and there were still a lot of homes that did not have high-speed internet access. Frankly,  smart phones today are more powerful than those first laptops we provided students.”

Because of the proliferation of student-owned devices, Baker plans on transitioning some schools to a mixed-delivery system that will include some school-owned devices for students who need them, but also a “bring your own technology” model in which many devices are supplied by students and parents.

He encourages schools looking to implement one-to-one computing programs to examine equipment for educators as well as students.

“I think [one] of the mistakes that a lot of schools make is that they put the preponderance of their effort onto getting devices in the hands of students, and that certainly is important—but equally important, if not even more important, is to get teachers all of the devices and tools that they need,” Baker said, adding that those devices and tools could include video projectors and other technology.

For more on digital textbooks, see:

Many U.S. schools adding iPads, trimming textbooks

‘TV textbooks’ bring access to low-income Florida students

Custom curriculum publishing on the rise

Who needs a bulky textbook?