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Report Recommends Shift to Digital Educational Resources Within 5 Years

A new report from the State Education Technology Directors Association (SETDA) points to the importance of shifting K-12 schools in the United States from printed textbooks to digital educational resources. The report released today, Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age, delves into the benefits of digital and open educational resources, profiles several states that have already started making the shift, outlines the factors required for successful deployment of digital resources, and provides recommendations for meeting students' needs.

According to the report, digital content is more flexible and cost-effective than print materials such as textbooks. Digital resources can be updated easily without the cost of reprinting. They are available anytime, anywhere for students and teachers to access in the classroom or at home. They can be personalized to meet the individual needs of students. And they allow for richer content, including high-definition graphics, videos, simulations, interactive lessons, virtual labs, and online assessments.

The report indicates that 22 states have already opened the doors to digital educational resources, either by changing their definition of textbooks to include digital resources and consequently make funding available to purchase those types of materials, or by launching digital textbook or open educational resources initiatives. However, the report points out that these policy changes alone are insufficient to ensure that the shift to digital resources takes place in a manner that is conducive to student achievement and engagement.

According to the report, issues that states and school districts must address when implementing a digital or open educational resources policy include:

  • Sustainable funding for devices so students can have full access to the technology they need to take advantage of digital materials;
  • Robust network infrastructure and Internet connectivity that can handle large volumes of digital content;
  • Up-to-date policies and practices at the school district level that encourage rather than inhibit use of digital resources;
  • Professional development for new and existing teachers that prepares them to use digital educational materials effectively, both in their own classrooms and for their own professional development;
  • Content licensing that encourages sharing and customization;
  • Vetting and organization of digital materials at the school district level to make it easier and faster for teachers to find the materials they need, when they need them; and
  • Buy-in from state and school district leaders.

The core recommendation of the report is that states and school districts should start shifting to digital instructional materials with their next major "textbook" adoption cycle and that they should complete the shift from print to digital within the next five years. Otherwise, the report warns, schools will be stuck with static, inflexible content for five to ten years, depending on the length of their adoption cycle.

"In a time of tight budgets and increasing expectations, many schools today purchase both print and digital instructional materials in a duplicative and uncoordinated fashion, with far too little attention to quality and value for money," said Douglas Levin, executive director of SETDA, in a prepared statement. "If the shift to digital instructional materials is not made immediately, major funding will continue to be directed to traditional materials that will tie the hands of students and educators to static, inflexible content for years to come."

The report also recommends that states and districts develop a vision and roadmap for completing the shift by investing in network infrastructure and devices necessary for digital learning, eliminating policies that inhibit the adoption of digital learning resources, replacing them with policies that support digital learning, and providing teacher education and support.

The final recommendation is that policy makers, educators, and business leaders work together "to create alternative, flexible models for the creation, acquisition, distribution, and use of digital content."

The full report is freely available online through the SETDA site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].