Two key steps to using digital content

Digital content can offer better learning opportunities, but transitioning to them may be a challenge for districts

digital-textbooksToday, it seems like digital content is king. But how can districts effectively navigate the transition to digital content and digital resources?

Despite digital content’s benefits, including a lower cost and better capacity for being up-to-date, barriers still exist that make it difficult for schools and districts to make the digital transition.

During an edWeb session on migrating to digital content, Jonathan Costa, director of school and program services for Education Connection, a former educator, and author of Digital Learning For All, Now!, offered a look at important steps in moving to digital content.

“We’ve been advocating for one-on-one digital learning for many years,” Costa said. “We came to the understanding, over time, that even when districts and schools have one-to-one access, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will make a transition to digital content.”

(Next page: The first two steps in a digital content migration)

Part of that challenge lies in the lack of guidance.

“Making that transition is hard to do if you’ve never done it–there’s no roadmap for it,” Costa said.

Costa touched on five major steps that form a digital content transition roadmap: goals and rationale, organizing context, storage and access, harvesting, and barriers and considerations. He discussed the first two in detail on April 29, and the remaining three steps will be discussed in a second webinar on May 19.

1. Goals and rationale

Why move? “The future of learning and work is digital–shifting the center of gravity from print to digital allows us to align instructional content and materials with our ultimate educational goal,” Costa said.

Every student must have an internet-ready device in order to cultivate global and 21st-century skills.

The future of learning and work lies in digital tools and content, and digital access is necessary if students are to be successful in the digital age.

“What we find is that even when people get to digital, they are still thinking like they are in a print world,” Costa said.

Aligning systems is important, because a move to digital content “only makes sense if your systems support the movement to digital,” Costa said. This begins with a focus on desired student learning outcomes, and district leaders should align instruction, assessment, and resources with those learning outcomes.

In fact, there is a much better chance that a digital content migration will be successful if all instructional systems work with the same goals in mind.

Instructional practices and assessments must support the commitment to those learning outcomes.

Capacity needs cannot be ignored.

“You cannot stoke demand without providing capacity. Infrastructure and support needs must be addressed to ensure a successful transition,” Costa said.

Networks, including wireless access points, must be able to handle “100 percent simultaneous users and the traffic that will come when everyone is online at the same time,” he noted.

If school leaders “cannot delivery on the promise of capacity…[then the] system bogs down and people get frustrated–you’ve got about a week or two of that before people give up and stop believing you,” he said.

Educator and IT staff capacity are equally important.

“We started advocating for BYOD out of budgetary necessity, but over the last couple of years we feel like it’s even more important instructionally,” Costa said. “Allowing kids to use devices they are comfortable with helps to increase their ability to use them productively…but it also…changes the equation in terns of the faculty conversation. We don’t hear people arguing about which device anymore. We see the conversation shifting toward what we are doing with the devices versus which device we are using.”

Making the case starts with leaders. “To effectively advocate for this transition, there needs to be leadership clarity regarding the rationale for making the move, the benefits of moving, and the steps in the process needed to get there,” Costa said.

Initial points to make the case for digital content include its less expensive nature and more efficient use of resources; the fact that digital content is better aligned with skills today’s students need; that digital content allows teachers to differentiate instruction; and that there is not a lack of online resources, but rather, lack of time to locate available resources.

“One mistake many make is repeating the same curation errors digitally that you do in print…if you curate well and harvest well, you can increase the quality and reduce the expense,” Costa said.

Dialogue with constituents must occur at all levels. Key constituents, including students, parents, and faculty, must be involved in the digital content migration from the beginning so that they are aware of its rationale and process.

School leaders should anticipate misconceptions or questions about a digital content migration and should be proactive and prepared when it comes to addressing those questions.

The more groups that are involved in the digital content migration from the beginning, the better chance for success.

(Next page: The second essential step)

2. Organizing context

School leaders will have to make decisions about the goals and structures that are best suited to each individual course, and organize the digital content in order to meet those defined goals.

Rethinking is the first step. “Set an expectation for the use of digital tools for learning and digital content that adds value to student learning by increasing student involvement, engagement, and cognitive rigor,” Costa said. “A digital transition to simply replicate print learning conditions is a waste.”

Recreating print courses in digital form “is a waste,” he said. Instead, educators should strive to identify what impossible things digital content makes possible.

Outline each course’s potential will help educators find digital content and tools to support and fulfill that potential.

“The whole point of rethinking is to not assume your digital course has to look like your print course,” Costa said.

Course goals and objectives can begin, Costa said, with the end: “Start with the end in mind–what do you want students to know and be able to do?” he said. “Everything you do from this point forward is going to get tied back to what you have identified as the key goals for this course.”

Creating frames of reference will help educators “organize digital content within a structure that supports and is aligned with the course’s goals and objectives for student learning,” Costa said.

The more explicit an educator can be in identifying what organizational framework will work best for an individual course’s content, the better, and the easier content, style, hosting, and platform decisions will be.

Content and style will impact how digital resources are organized and used.

Developing a digital content repository that is well-designed and usable will support learning goals across all courses and will make it easier for educators to locate digital resources to support their instruction.

Timelines should be realistic, as should expectations. School leaders and educators want to ensure that a move to digital content is made correctly and carefully.

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Laura Ascione
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