Students, teachers and districts benefit from digital shift

Recent research by the Association of Educational Publishers confirms that many publishers are shifting their resources away from print. The December 2009 study found that 40 percent of publishers are repurposing content for digital platforms, up from 25 percent in 2008. Across the U.S., many schools districts are also looking closely at using digital technology in place of traditional print materials. Three brief profiles demonstrate a variety of reasons – economic, pedagogic and practical - that going digital may benefit a district.

Lorain City Schools (Lorain, Ohio)

An inner-city school district with out-of-date textbooks, a wide technology gap at school and at home and a large budget deficit proved a challenging environment for a pilot program in digital content and one-to-one computing. Despite those challenges, Lorain City Schools Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson and her team understood that technology integration in education is essential to students’ future success.

“Providing students with Acer netbooks and digital content has improved their grades and brought parental participation to a level that I have not seen in an urban environment – to say nothing of the substantial cost savings,” said Atkinson.

Atkinson explained that the district had three driving goals: provide students with a solid foundation of technology, provide equal access to that technology and replace its textbooks with a more flexible option. Working with CDW-G, provider of technology solutions to educational institutions and government agencies, the district was able to image the netbooks and ensure that students had access to the district’s catalog of digital content. CDW-G offers schools a comprehensive guide on moving to digital content.

The pilot program at Lorain City Schools, which began with grades six, nine and 10, has expanded to span grades six through 11 and 4,700 students.

“First we quantified the true cost of textbooks, including replacement costs, to develop a baseline on which to evaluate the move to digital content,” said Charles Kanavel, technology director, Campbell Union High School District. “Our original goal was to reduce our spending on textbooks, which we were able to do.”

While the district is still in the early phases of implementation, it is already planning to expand its pilot to include history and science courses.

Hunterdon Central School District (Flemington, NJ)

The first investment Hunterdon Central School District made into a shift towards digital content was not the purchase of netbooks. In fact, the pilot program of 600 students was the culmination of five years of professional development geared toward shifting the way the district’s teachers learned.

“The foundation of our pilot program lies in professional development,” said Rob Mancabelli, director of information systems, Hunterdon Central. “We are retraining our teachers to learn in a digital environment. Only then can they begin to teach students using those tools.”

With the new pedagogical base firmly laid, Hunterdon Central distributed the 600 netbooks to students in September 2009. The district included a cross-section of students in general education, special education and advanced placement (AP) courses and a wide-range of subjects and grades.

To measure students’ progress, the district is using benchmarks to assess problem solving, critical thinking and communication skills and student initiative. “Since implementing the digital content program, students have markedly improved in all of the benchmark areas,” Mancabelli said.

In response to the pilot’s success, Hunterdon plans to expand the pilot program and eventually develop a model that includes all of the district’s 3,200 students.