Research: Move to Digital Curriculum Calls for Teacher Training, New District Roles

Most K-12 teachers involved in the transition to digital curriculum spend between two and five hours a week searching for digital resources for their lessons. Slightly fewer than half use digital content only a quarter to half of their time. And two thirds of schools and districts report that they've added new positions to deal with the expansion of the use of digital resources.

Those are some of the findings in an extensive survey undertaken recently by the Learning Counsel to understand how schools are transitioning to the use of digital learning materials. The counsel is a for-profit organization that consults with schools — in both K-12 and higher ed — on the use of digital content in education. This is the second year the survey has been compiled. The latest research project was underwritten by Sprint.

According to the "Learning Counsel Survey Report on Digital Curriculum Transition Strategy for 2015," a third of educators spend under an hour each week doing searches for digital lesson planning; 9 percent spend six or more hours; and 58 percent spend between two and five hours. While 48 percent of respondents to the survey reported spending 25 to 50 percent of their time using digital content predominantly, 27 percent said they use it less than that and 24 percent said they use it more often.

Among the respondent schools, three-quarters (77 percent) have a 1-to-1 learning environment in at least one grade level. The average length of the 1-to-1 program was 3.5 years. Most (57 percent) don't have a bring-your-own-device program for students.

Sixty-four percent noted that their school systems have new positions with roles and responsibilities related to the expansion in usage of digital resources. Four in 10 districts bring curriculum and technology staffs together multiple times during the month to manage the execution of the schools' digital curriculum strategy; another 16 percent meet monthly.

Not every school or district has a strategy laying out how digital content will be used. Only 52 percent of respondents stated that they already have one in place or are finalizing one. Less than that — 42 percent — have developed either outcomes or "ideal scenes" tied to the strategy.

The number one intent for development of a digital curriculum strategy was to achieve greater instructor effectiveness. Last year's top driver was increasing student engagement, which shows up in second place on this year's survey. Spots three, four and five were occupied in the 2015 survey by personalized learning, project-based learning and blended learning, respectively. As the reported noted, "This year's responses [are] solely focused on learning. Schools and districts understand the importance of instructors who are effective teachers, the need to reach all students in order to keep them engaged [through] personalizing learning, and making that learning relevant and meaningful."

Four of the five major challenges faced by schools as they promote the adoption of digital curriculum were related to training; the odd one out is related to funding:

  • Professional development related to design of curriculum and instruction;
  • Training on the digital curriculum system;
  • Training related to classroom pedagogy;
  • Inadequate budget allocated to the transition to digital content; and
  • Teacher training related to device usage.

The most common grumble from teachers was that they have too many systems to interact with (59 percent), too much work related to managing user names and passwords (55 percent) and "inadequate or aged computing devices" (34 percent). On that last item, schools must be upgrading their systems; last year the portion of teachers complaining about old gear was one and a half times higher (52 percent)

According to David Kafitz, vice president of school relationships and consulting at the Learning Counsel and author of the report, schools and districts face common challenges in moving to digital curriculum. "Every district and school executive, curriculum director or innovations specialist we met, no matter which city we were in, were running into similar frustrations, funding barriers and PD problems," he said in a prepared statement. "Many districts and schools do not have comprehensive strategies. All types of random hardware products, subscription sites, apps, digital content and systems are being used in an unaligned and disorganized manner."

The national perspective provided by the counsel is proving "invaluable," added Janell McClure, director of digital and multimedia learning at Cobb County School District in Georgia. "By sharing information, processes, and research that contribute to a successful transition, the Learning Counsel has helped education leaders chart a course that includes actionable data and current trends. The survey results guide our work as we continue to strive for excellence in teaching and learning through digital platforms, tools, and practices."

The research report is expected to be made publicly available on the Learning Counsel site shortly.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.