How districts are transitioning to digital content

As a concept, using digital content in the classroom is nothing new. But making the leap from using traditional print textbooks to fully integrating digital content in the classroom can be intimidating. During a webinar sponsored by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), some experienced digital content advocates shared how they implemented changes in their schools and districts.

In “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook,” a recent SETDA report, the group issued three recommendations to help school leaders and policy makers guide and implement the use of digital content:

  1. Complete the shift from print-centric textbook adoption practices to digital resources within five years, beginning with the next major textbook adoption cycle
  2. Develop a vision and roadmap for completing the shift, eliminate unnecessary or ineffective policies and regulations, invest in infrastructure and devices, and ensure effective implementation of digital learning policies
  3. Ensure a vibrant marketplace for digital and open content

(Next page: How Utah and Indiana moved to digital resources)

“While daunting, I think a full shift is really possible with commitment and focus,” said Geoff Fletcher, SETDA’s deputy executive director. “The rest of our culture is there in our daily lives…and it’s time for students’ lives in school to be similar to their lives outside of school.”

Utah school technology leaders implemented a statewide digital science textbook initiative using open educational resources (OER) from the CK12 Foundation and other vetted digital resources.

Supported by a grant from the Hewlett Foundation and in partnership with Brigham Young University’s David Wiley, Utah education leaders aimed to create a flexible resource that was cost-effective and specific to the state’s needs and standards.

“It can be challenging to find texts that address the specific topics we say need to be addressed, in a comprehensive fashion, without bringing in a huge amount of materials that can be expensive,” said Sarah Reeves Young, Utah science Specialist with the state’s education department.

Using OER means that community members and parents can access or use the science texts as well, eliminating the need to order costly extra textbooks to have on hand for such situations.

“It sets the stage to support change based on innovation in science and education—no one wants to have the textbook in their classroom that says Pluto is a planet,” Young said, adding that changing state standards also presents a problem when it comes to traditional textbooks. “One of the biggest push-backs from folks in our classrooms and community is that when standards change, how does that impact them in terms of their resources? If they’re committed to a textbook…they’re looking at five to eight years [before] being able to really address those changes.”

School leaders held a two-day workshop to develop the statewide digital textbooks, established common understandings about what OER, state science standards, what purpose the standards serve, and what the role of the textbook is in science courses.

Then, workshop leaders broke attendees into standards-based teams to create standards drafts, and at least two educators were part of every standards-based writing team. Attendees reviewed the documents on the second day of the workshop.Free PDFs of the digital textbooks are available on the state’s website under a Creative Commons License. Educators and leaders produced six secondary science texts, with plans to expand into elementary school.

Administrators in Indiana’s Plymouth Community School Corporation (PCSC) decided that they wanted to incorporate digital content that would be available on demand, be shared, and would be engaging and personalized.

“Information is readily accessible via the internet and different resources,” said Dan Funston, PCSC’s assistant superintendent. “There used to be a time when teachers held all the information. We have to teach our kids to know what’s good content, what’s bad content, and we have to teach our kids to be self-directed learners.”
The district used local funds and textbook money, following a state ruling that textbook money could be used to purchase digital content, to fund a one-to-one netbook program. The district also received competitive state grants in 2010 and 2012 to create and curate its own content, and project leaders made that content readily available after creation. Those projects led to online classes for district students.

Representatives from the district are joining others across the state in an eLearning Leadership Cadre, in which 12 people will share efforts regarding curating content and sharing best practices.

In addition to its one-to-one program, the district uses a podcasting service housed in a Mac OS X Server, uses My Big Campus for curating content into “bundles” that are shared district-wide, offers Pearson’s MathXL and digits math tools, and subscribes to Discovery Education’s science Techbook for grades 5-8.

When it comes to planning and scaling up successful practices, Funston said that administrators and school leaders should communicate a clear vision for what they want to do, look to teachers and teacher leaders to build up leadership capacity, implement real-time professional development with follow-up coaching, and support a digital culture.

Sign up for our K-12 newsletter

Newsletter: Innovations in K12 Education
By submitting your information, you agree to our Terms & Conditions and Privacy Policy.

Laura Ascione

Want to share a great resource? Let us know at

Comments are closed.

eSchool News uses cookies to improve your experience. Visit our Privacy Policy for more information.