Key implementation steps can help a digital transition be as smooth as possible
School leaders know how important it is to “make the move to digital”—ensuring students are able to access digital tools and resources to cultivate skills such as critical thinking, problem solving, and research and evaluation.
To support this digital push, a number of solutions have flooded the market in an attempt to help districts make this transition. But before school leaders choose and implement a solution, they must make sure they’re planning properly.
Here, Tom Arnett, a former math educator and an education research fellow at the nonprofit Clayton Christensen Institute, outlines how to evaluate and implement digital curriculum so that it empowers students and teachers.
The first and most important step, and also one of the biggest challenges in a digital curriculum transition, is vision.
(Next: More steps in designing a digital curriculum rollout)
“Having the right vision for going about it in the first place is vital,” Arnett said. “The districts that do it really well have an idea of the objectives they want to accomplish with going digital. The most exciting is when a district has a vision for changing the way it’s going about doing instruction. That’s the critical first piece—districts have to have a vision for why they’re doing it, and have to identify the benefits and the goals they’re trying to accomplish with it, rather than just diving into a trend.”
Plan—and plan some more.
“This is somewhat common sense, but give yourself time to plan before you roll out a digital initiative,” Arnett said. “Take time to think through and identify potential roadblocks. Get in touch with similar districts and schools that are doing the same thing.”
Next is a focus on instructional delivery. When a digital curriculum is introduced, many districts can fall flat if they make no attempt to change the way they deliver instruction. “The more innovative a curriculum gets, the more challenging it can be—districts are rethinking the process about how they deliver implementation,” Arnett said. “In those cases, districts can run into big challenges if they do a blanket implementation, and then they end up with teachers and students who aren’t part of that tradition.”
Leveraging early adopters can position a school district for success in a digital curriculum. “If you’re going to do something really innovative that pushes the frontier of learning, the districts that seem to be doing the best are the ones that are letting it happen organically,” Arnett said. “Finding enthusiastic early adopters and giving them the support to innovate” may help schools work through a transition and design it effectively. “As early adopters figure out how to make it work well, at that point, you can roll it out to a broader audience and let early adopters help and guide others.”
Despite thorough plans, school leaders should anticipate and prepare for problems, Arnett said.
“Recognize upfront that problems or bumps in the road will happen,” he said. “Have a mindset of flexibility—you’ve prepared for the fact that problems can happen. That’s why it’s so valuable to do this in phases and start with early adopters—those are the people who are willing to put in time and effort.”
When non-early adopters run into a roadblock, they have a tendency to give up or consider a project as a waste of time. “Early adopters have a very different mindset to approaching those challenges and will work through them,” Arnett said.
School leaders should be patient, and begin small.
“It’s good to keep in mind that you’ll get there eventually, to a district-wide implementation, but it’s good to have small cases to learn lessons from before you try and do everything at once,” Arnett said.
As early adopters figure things out, a district might go through one or two small digital implementation cycles to figure out what does or doesn’t work before rolling out to all teachers.
Finally, technology and digital curriculum alone do not fundamentally change instruction.
“Digital curriculum in and of itself provides a lot of innovative opportunities to improve the way you present content to students, but alone, it doesn’t change the architecture of the way we’ve done traditional instruction. If you really want to do something innovative, it’s not just a matter of implementing a digital curriculum—you have to find ways to redesign instruction,” Arnett said.
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