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

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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.

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