When it comes to digital content’s instructional benefits, school principals who participated in the Speak Up survey reported that digital content increases student engagement (74 percent), extends learning beyond the school day (60 percent), personalizes learning (45 percent), and improves teachers’ skills with technology (44 percent).

When properly implemented and used faithfully, digital content’s benefits are many. Still, obstacles remain.

More than half (55 percent) of principals said their schools don’t have enough computers and internet access to support digital content. Forty-two percent said evaluating the quality of digital content is a barrier to its use, and 38 percent said they don’t have enough bandwidth in schools. Thirty-two percent said teachers aren’t properly trained–or trained at all–to use digital content.

As the survey data is examined each year, Project Tomorrow CEO Julie Evans said it’s clear that teachers have moved from wanting digital content delivered to them in ready-to-use formats to wanting customizable digital content that they are able to edit and modify.

“This is a significant statement about the increasing desire of teachers to use digital content,” she said.

In this year’s survey, teachers said they are using digital tools and professional development to differentiate instruction (45 percent), for formative assessments (26 percent), and to identify mobile apps for classroom use (36 percent). Full data will be released in April 2014.

Digital content can have a positive impact on students’ research skills—one of the crucial and in-demand skills students will need to be successful in college and the workplace.

During a two-year study at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, D.C., students used Gale Resources, part of Cengage Learning’s Digital Portfolio, in classrooms. Gale Resources is traditionally a library product, but school leaders wanted to see how it would impact teachers and students—specifically, what factors influence the adoption of digital content and resources in the classroom and how digital content impacts students’ research skills.

From 2010-2012, 283 students and eight teachers used Gale Resources regularly in their classrooms.

The study found that using Gale resources was most effective in connection with purposeful, project-based learning activities. Students in the study demonstrated higher achievement gains.

Teachers said they valued using digital content when it enhances lessons and improves learning experiences. Students said they saw using digital content and research as a way to develop 21st century skills.

To that end, the study revealed a valuable lesson: Digital resources appear to be most effective when they are integrated into lessons instead of simply being overlaid on a preexisting activity or lesson.

“It makes teachers rethink how they’re delivering instruction,” Evans said.

Administrative support is critical to any digital initiative. Without support of building administrators and staff, the McKinley pilot would not have been as successful, Evans said.