Technology directors urge faster conversion to digital content

States and school districts should within five years complete a transition from "print-centric" textbooks to digital resources, a report from the State Educational Technology Directors Association recommends.

In “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age,” the association asserts that the growth in the use of digital content “seems so far to have eluded many of the 50 million students enrolled in public K-12 education.”

In spite of the fact that the United States invests $5.5 billion a year in textbooks, many students are using printed books that are 7 to 10 years old and contain outdated material,” the report says.

Without an immediate commitment to embracing digital content for students, “major funding will go toward providing students and teachers with static, inflexible content that will be in place for five to 10 years,” the report warns.

The report proposes that states and school systems that haven't begun the shift from print to digital start doing so in their next major textbook adoption cycle. The conversion should be completed by no later than 2017-18.

“Flexible, digital instructional resources available now and coming on the market...will provide greater opportunity to personalize learning as well as save money,” the technology directors say. “The current approach of uncoordinated purchasing of duplicative print and digital instructional resources is wasteful and expensive.”

The technology directors attribute the slow pace of digital conversion to several factors:

  • State laws and policies have not kept pace with changes in technology or uses of technology in schools.
  • The way content is vetted discourages many publishers from competing in the market and eliminates materials that could be useful to educators and students.
  • Inadequate access to technology in schools and homes impedes a fully equitable shift to digital content.
  • The business model for instructional materials in K-12 education is more than a half-century old and has become a barrier to innovation.
  • Modern teacher training models often are insufficient.
  • A perception exists that the quality of material on the Internet is inferior to print content.

“The result is this—the educational environment isn’t exploiting digital content for all of the benefits that can accrue for today’s learners,” the report says.

The primary benefit of shifting to digital education materials is increased flexibility. Instead of an expensive textbook with a limited shelf life linked to a specific grade level, digital materials “can be acquired in smaller pieces...and those pieces can be assembled and used in many places in a K-12 curriculum, not just in one subject area in one grade.”

For teachers, digital materials enable them to more effectively track student performance and may make it easier for instructors “to personalize learning by allowing the educator greater flexibility in how instruction is delivered,” the report maintains.

Personalizing learning with digital materials is considered especially important for students with special learning needs, the technology directors say.

“Retrofitting accessibility into existing instructional materials (is) a time-consuming and expensive process, and...is glaringly insufficient to meeting the learning needs of today’s students,” the report asserts. “...If digital content developers and publishers design for accessibility and variability in learning abilities right from the start, not only will students with special needs benefit, but all students will.”

Other recommendations in the report:

  • Develop a vision for carrying out conversion to digital, and “clearly communicate it to school leaders, teachers, publishers, technology companies...and the public at large.” In doing so, states, school systems and publishers must revamp their processes for creating, acquiring and using instructional materials “to take advantage of what digital content can bring to the education sector.
  • States and districts should consider collaborative purchasing of student computer devices and allow more flexible funding to optimize the use of digital resources in schools. They also should develop effective models for carrying out a shift from print to digital.
  • Policymakers, educators, and business leaders need to collaborate to create flexible models for creating, acquiring, distributing and using digital content.


View the entire report. ( PDF file)

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