In a move that could be considered encouraging for advocates of digital learning, leaders from the Education Department (ED), the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the textbook and broadband industry met March 29 on Capitol Hill to discuss how companies can better serve schools and districts with digital textbooks.
FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski said the meeting was a follow-up to a challenge issued by the two agencies last month to state and industry leaders to drive national adoption of digital textbooks in the next five years. (See “Feds’ challenge to schools: Embrace digital textbooks.”)
“That’s why we called this meeting, to bring together different parts of the digital text ecosystem and get some work done,” said Genachowski.
The different parts of the “ecosystem” included some of digital learning’s biggest players, such as Discovery Education and AT&T.
“Meetings like this bring a lot of exposure to the education industry and will continue to help the digital transformation,” said Bill Goodwyn, CEO of Discovery Education. “They also open doors for other companies to enter the education space. We hope what we are doing in these meetings will continue to encourage states and districts to introduce more flexibility in instructional materials funding and rules.”
Goodwyn also said that he, and others, believe that the five-year challenge is realistic, but will “require significant professional development for administrators and educators to turn them into the digital natives that students already are.”
James Coulter, co-chair of the Leading Education by Advancing Digital (LEAD) Commission and co-founder of TPG Capital, presented a report on what it means to be “digital” in the U.S. today, as well as some of the major challenges facing widespread adoption of digital textbooks.
“Today there are more TV packages available than there were TV shows available when I was a kid,” said Coulter. “There’s so much available variety at the click of a button, and that’s where we are in the world. Today’s kids need to know so much more today than in past generations to be able to compete globally, and instead of providing them that same instant, digital access, their backpacks are the heaviest they’ve ever been! We need to change that.”
Coulter made sure to emphasize that technology is not a fix-all and that digital textbooks are a tool, not a way to “fundamentally change the teacher-student dynamic.”
One of the challenges he cited was resistance to change.