For two states, the digital transition requires an overhaul of the process

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Refocusing classrooms around up-and-coming digital materials requires more than just adding a new tech-based product or two as many processes for reviewing and purchasing instructional materials are still built around print textbooks. Now, though, some states are going back to the beginning and rethinking how they review instructional materials and allocate funds to ensure that they are focused on the realities of the 21st century classroom.

During a recent edWebinar, Christine Fox, Deputy Executive Director of SETDA, toured the updated DMAPS site and talked about the importance of state leadership in transitioning to digital instructional materials. André E. DeLeón, Education Programs Professional at the Nevada Department of Education, and Alison Harte, Instructional Materials Specialist for the Bureau of Standards and Instructional Support in the Florida Department of Education, presented case studies on how their states are changing the conversation to digital first.

Currently, Nevada has what DeLeón described as an outdated method for reviewing materials. First, schools and districts review new products and invite public comment from required stakeholders. Then, they submit their findings to the state department of education for review, where the process starts again. School leaders must sit back and wait for a decision, and materials are approved on case-by-case basis. In the new procedure being developed, the process would be flipped. The review will start at the state level with school and district personnel participating and sharing their evaluations at the same time.

The improved process not only increases transparency regarding state approval, but it also lets the Department of Education address problems with how the current regulations define instructional materials. “We saw that our code was only looking at the adoption of textbooks,” said DeLeón. “We weren’t really delving into the scope of what instructional materials are and what they could be. And we also were not looking at bringing in technology in any type of meaningful way.”

More important, the state-led procedure views the instructional materials as a system, rather than as individual parts. Evaluators have the time to stop and ask if a material is truly effective and how it fits with the other curriculum and their digital platform.

In Florida, only the Major Tool Materials, in other words the core curricular products, are evaluated for adoption. While the tools may have print components, companies must submit them digitally, and only the digital materials are reviewed. Local districts do not have to buy the digital versions, said Harte, but many districts do focus on tech in their purchasing decisions. In fact, Harte added, Florida now provides “flexibility in the use of up to $165 million of instructional materials funds for the purchase of electronic devices and technology equipment and infrastructure.”

Although the majority of Florida’s districts purchase materials from the adoption lists, they also have the 50-50 option. Districts must spend 50% of their funding on materials from the adoption list, but then they can spend 50% on materials they choose as long as they provide justification. Harte explained that the 50-50 options allows for local control across the state.

Due to the differences between the 60-plus Florida districts, the schools are at varying stages of the digital transition. Pinellas County, for example, has a blended model working towards 1-to-1. Select schools in Orange County are part of LaunchED, an immersive, connected, and collaborative learning experience providing students with access to world-class digital tools and resources.

As Fox pointed out in her discussion of the new DMAPS, states have individual approaches to incorporating digital materials into their classrooms, and they are updating these practices constantly. One key element in most of the initiatives, including Florida and Nevada’s new approach, is professional development. Educators receive support at every level so they are comfortable teaching in a digital classroom and can help students get the most out of the new materials and their new environment.

This broadcast was hosted by and SETDA and sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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This article was modified and published by EdScoop.

About the Presenters

André DeLeón is an education programs professional for the Nevada Department of Education. As a member of the standards and instructional support (SIS) team, his responsibilities focus on K-12 science education and instructional materials for the state of Nevada. His professional experience includes over 25 years as a teacher, school administrator and school board member as well as work as a research sociologist and youth-at-risk counselor.

Alison Harte is an instructional materials specialist in the Bureau of Standards and Instructional Support at the Florida Department of Education. In this role, she supports the policies and procedures specifications for Florida’s instructional materials adoption. Prior to this position, Alison worked in Florida’s Deputy Chancellor’s office in the Division of Educator Quality. Alison is an experienced secondary school English teacher, a Florida native and a graduate of the Florida State University.

About the Host

Christine Fox is the deputy executive director for SETDA. As Deputy Executive Director, she collaborates with the executive director in charting strategic direction, administration, planning and financial decisions involving SETDA. She also facilitates the members’ professional learning opportunities including planning and implementing the content for SETDA’s virtual and in-person events and newsletters. In addition, she manages many of SETDA’s research and product development projects from conception to publication. The management of such projects includes coordinating data collection from all states, supervising consultants and staff, ensuring member input and supervising the publishing process. Recent publications and projects include Navigating the Digital Shift, Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policies for States, OER Case Studies: Implementation in Action, The Broadband Imperative and From Data to Information. Christine’s background includes experience in education and consulting. She has worked as an educational consultant and curriculum developer for a national whole school reform model, ESOL coordinator and 3rd grade teacher. Christine has a Masters of Science in teaching English as a second language from Florida International University and received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from Florida State University.

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Essential Elements for Digital Content is a free professional learning community that provides policy makers, school administrators and educator leaders a better understanding of policies and practices related to digital instructional materials.

setdaThe State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit membership association launched by state education agency leaders in 2001 to serve, support and represent their emerging interests and needs with respect to the use of technology for teaching, learning, and school operations. Our current work is guided by a strategic plan, Leading, Inspiring and Empowering: The 2013-16 SETDA Strategic Plan, adopted by the SETDA Board of Directors in October 2012 after extensive consultation with the membership. The SETDA mission is to build and increase the capacity of state and national leaders to improve education through technology policy and practice.