Textbook-free schools share experiences, insights

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.”

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“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.

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