State leaders: Here’s how we’re going digital

In Iowa, eFlex Days allow students to learn from home or community centers about once every month.

There’s been much recent talk about schools going all-digital–from Arne Duncan’s call to action to the backlash from educators–but implementing digital resources is no easy task. During a recent stakeholder forum, however, leaders and experts came together to address how to make this shift into a reality.

The forum, Advancing Education in the Digital Age, was part of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) 2012 Leadership Summit and highlighted SETDA’s recent report on the shift to digital instruction.

“We’ve committed as a state to say goodbye to textbooks because of the 2009 legislation which said that monies collected for texts could be used for technology,” explained Candice Dodson, director of eLearning for the Indiana Department of  Education during the day’s breakout session on “Accelerating the Shift to Digital and Open Content.”

Dodson explained how many of the state’s districts have one-to-one programs through the 2009 legislation, with some using a cart for mobile devices and some with Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies.

“Our state’s DOE helps connect learners and crowdsources digital content, as well as helps with content organization. We’ve partnered with Lightspeed Systems with their My Big Campus, and we also help find grants. We also make purchases, like with the National Repository of Online Courses (NROC), and partnered with NBC Learn. Finally, we’ve hosted and organized a ‘Summer of eLearning.’”

Dodson also described a new pilot for the state called eFlex Days, allowing students to learn from home or community centers about once every month. While students review curriculum material those days, teachers still come into the school, only it’s to participate in peer and formal professional development (PD).

Tiffany Hall, coordinator of teaching and learning for the Utah State Office of Education, said her state first started thinking about the shift to digital resources when Utah adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in 2010.

“With that adoption we defined our instructional materials, integrated a math model, ensured local control, and decided to support digital and open materials,” she explained. “So far, 74 percent of all students in the state have access to a computer at home, and our goal is to have 100 percent.”

Other goals for Utah include completing four open text projects—customized curricula for science, secondary math, elementary math, and K-12 English/Language Arts. The texts are customized by teachers to align to CCSS and all are vetted and field tested before they’re pushed out.

“Students need the most relevant and current content available,” said Hall, “and they also need student annotation and print-on-demand capabilities. We also need more teacher professional development and more vetted open source content.”

Hall said the state also is going to continue its Core Academy, provide state-wide professional learning opportunities specific to open resources, formalize standards for open text review, and create partnerships with material providers.

Already, Hall said the state has crafted efficacy studies to determine whether students learn better with print texts or with digital materials, based on student outcomes. So far, there’s been no change for better or for worse.

Bigger picture

To help all states advance the shift to digital learning, SETDA announced the launch of the State Education Policy Center (SEPC). The SEPC–available online at–is intended to provide up-to-date information regarding select technology-related education policies and practices to inform school reform and improvement efforts.

“The aggregation of these state policies is unique,” said Douglas Levin, SETDA executive director. “We believe it will benefit state, federal and local policymakers, researchers, private sector (corporate and philanthropic) investors and practitioners.”

In addition to background information on each state, at launch the SEPC focuses on three topics:

  1. K-12 broadband policy and practice
  2. Online student assessment (formative and summative) policy and practice
  3. Instructional materials policy and practice (with an emphasis on digital and open content).

Levin said that SETDA and its membership are committed to updating content as policy changes are made in the states and in enhancing the coverage of state policies and practices over time.

“Knowledge mining and information management is at the core of our combined and shared interest,” said Jose Ortega, administrator of the Education Technology Office in the California Department of Education. “The State Education Policy Center provides a central repository of critical topics and policies that will help advance our own work through the experiences of our fellow states.”

The launch of the SEPC was supported in part by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

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