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SETDA urges shift to digital instruction


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 But should today’s students still have to consult hefty—and often outdated—printed texts?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

“In a time of tight budgets and increasing expectations, many schools today purchase both print and digital instructional materials in a duplicative and uncoordinated fashion, with far too little attention to quality and value for money,” said Douglas Levin, SETDA’s executive director. “If the shift to digital instructional materials is not made immediately, major funding will continue to be directed to traditional materials that will tie the hands of students and educators to static, inflexible content for years to come.”

He emphasized: “Only if education leaders act now can they influence the re-imagination of the K-12 textbook.”

Digital flexibility

According to the report, the advantages to using digital content are that it can…

  • Easily be kept up-to-date and relevant to students’ lives without the cost of reprinting or redistributing print materials;
  • Be made available anytime and anywhere, both online and offline;
  • Be personalized to individual student learning needs and abilities;
  • Be far richer and engaging, including not only text, but also high-definition graphics, video clips, animations, simulations, interactive lessons, virtual labs, and online assessments;
  • Be repurposed by others in perpetuity under an intellectual property license, or reside in the public domain, permitting its free use (in the case of OER).

Although there are many benefits to going digital, the report emphasizes that states are the key to driving this innovation, because they have primary responsibility for determining the process and funding models for the acquisition of instructional materials in schools.

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

Some states already have made significant policy changes, in some cases with support from the federal government. For instance, Indiana is redefining textbooks and providing flexibility in the use of “textbook funds”; Texas has enacted a similar definition shift and has added an education portal to share content; Utah has begun a shift to OER; and Virginia is leveraging other digital initiatives in assessment to support digital content development.

“We are proud of the work we have done in Indiana to increase technology options for schools,” said Tony Bennett, Indiana’s state superintendent of public instruction. “Increased flexibility to select digital instructional materials and new state-level grants are spreading high-quality, innovative initiatives across our state. This effort has created a thriving 21st -century learning environment for Hoosier children and is helping to drive student success to an all-time high.”

Detailed case studies of these states’ initiative can be found in the full report.

Helping hands

Though many states are making progress, the report acknowledges that policy changes regarding instructional materials are not enough to ensure that digital content is used in classrooms effectively. In making the shift from print to digital instruction, states and districts are urged to address the following issues:

  • Sustainable funding for devices to access digital content.
  • Robust internet connectivity.
  • Up-to-date policies and practices.
  • Prepared educators.
  • Intellectual property and reuse rights.
  • Quality control and usability.
  • State and local leadership buy-in.

SETDA also offers the following recommendations for K-12 policy makers, school leaders, and publishers:

  1. Complete the shift from print-centric textbook adoption practices to digital resources within five years.
  2. Develop a vision and road map for completing the shift; eliminate unnecessary regulation and enact supporting policies; invest in infrastructure and devices to support the shift; and ensure effective implementation of digital policies.
  3. Ensure a vibrant marketplace for digital and open content.

In-depth details for each of these recommendations can be found in the full report.

“Re-imagining and implementing an integral element of the educational system within five years is a daunting task,” the report concludes. “Yet, as this report highlights, leading states and districts have traveled partially down the path already—and our students are ready. If we are serious about offering a college-and career-ready education for all students, we do not have the luxury of further delay. It is past due time to re-imagine the future of the K-12 textbook. Join us.”

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

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