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3 secrets to a successful digital transformation

In just one year of becoming all-digital, the Stepinac academic probation rate was cut in half


During the 2013-2014 school year, Archbishop Stepinac High School became an all-digital high school, with each of its 700 students utilizing a fully digital textbook library with more than 40 academic textbooks.

This transformation has driven efficiencies in our school, created a more personalized learning environment for our students and, most importantly, has positively impacted student outcomes.

As vice principal at Archbishop Stepinac High School, I have had the pleasure of leading this exciting transformation, and along the way have spoken with school districts across the country that are interested in implementing a similar model in their schools.

Pulling from these discussions, I have highlighted three of the most valuable lessons I would like to share with other institutions considering going all digital:

1. Transformation does not happen overnight

Becoming an all-digital institution simply does not — and cannot — happen overnight. In fact, the complete digital transformation here at Stepinac took more than three years from our first test run of digital texts and platforms to the full implementation of the digital library.

(Next page: Ensuring a smooth digital learning transformation)

There are many steps to this process, the most important of which is choosing a trusted education technology provider. Working with Pearson, we first introduced digital texts as an alternative to standard print textbooks. At the same time, we began deploying innovative digital coursework and assessment platforms, such as SuccessNet and MyLabs, creating a hybrid-learning environment for our students.

When we made the decision to switch to all digital texts, Pearson worked with us to create a digital library where students can have online access to all the books they need for their specific assignments. (They can even have access to all titles used in the school for further enrichment, research, or remediation.)

The gradual approach allowed all parties—teachers, administrators, students, and parents—to adjust at their own desired pace, asking questions along the way.

2. Digital infrastructure must support the transformation

A school cannot become all digital without the correct infrastructure and technical support in place. Transitioning from a few computer labs to having 700 students plus administrators online all day requires a major increase in bandwidth, including wireless access points in every classroom and throughout the school. Additionally, an IT department will need to be trained and staffed for troubleshooting, monitoring the use of the bandwidth, and ensuring that the network is optimized, working smoothly, and that students are using it appropriately.

3. Teacher and student training and buy-in is key

Lastly, to ensure optimal learning outcomes, it’s important that administrators and teachers are all on board for the transformation, and that teachers and students understand how to use the technology. Along our path to becoming all digital, Pearson provided training to our staff for the various online platforms that we were using in the classroom.

Once we were ready to launch the digital library, everyone was familiar with the technology, and the additional training needed for that specific component was minimal. Both teachers and students embraced the digital platforms and e-texts readily. For teachers, it provided opportunity for more differentiated learning. For students, it gave them access to a wide array of resources that they could access from anywhere, anytime.

While this may be a lengthy process, the improved measurable learning outcomes are astonishing. In just one year of becoming all digital, the Stepinac academic probation rate was cut in half. Furthermore, teachers have reported that the technology has improved personalized learning, given students access to more learning resources and reduced overall costs for the school and the students —which sounds like every high school’s dream to me.

Frank Portanova is Vice Principal for Academics & Curriculum at Archbishop Stepinac High School. He holds graduate degrees in Curriculum & Teaching and Administration & Supervision from Fordham University.

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