Implementing a Digital Reading Platform Across an Entire School District

Watch the RecordingListen to the Podcast

Situated in the heart of Florida, Orange County is nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Coast and is a magical carriage ride from the “Happiest Place on Earth,” Walt Disney World! Given its location, it is no wonder that Orange County Public Schools (OCPS) is now home to 208,000 students who speak more than 170 different languages.

This level of diversity reinforces the adage that America is a wonderful melting pot of peoples and cultures. However, it also presents a set of challenges for a school district determined to provide high-quality reading materials and instruction to all students, of varying needs and at every grade level, PreK-12. 

During the edLeader Panel “How OCPS Brought Digital Reading to Their Large Urban District,” Margie Wells, Digital Learning and Library Media Program Specialist, and Allison Kibbey, Director of Instructional Technology and Library Media, shared how they coordinated and managed a systematic rollout of an ebooks and audiobooks solution to the districts’ 200+ schools.

Hardware and Infrastructure

Since 2013, OCPS has had a robust digital learning program, with corresponding device selection tailored by age group—iPads for kindergarten and first grade and laptops for second grade and above. Central to the program is digital content procurement, which includes textbooks and curricula. Equally important to proper device selection is a strong and reliable infrastructure, which includes boosted WiFi strength to ensure every classroom has an access point and is equipped with a SMART Board. This investment in hardware and infrastructure created a surge in demand for digital reading materials by teachers and students, especially during distance learning.

Kibbey said that when “our system that we had was being phased out, we needed a place to house a digital collection…which led us to our public library.” The Orange County Public Library System was using OverDrive, the parent company of Sora, for all its digital content.

Delivering Immediate Access to Digital Reading Materials

Sora is device agnostic and provides access to ebooks, audiobooks, read-alongs, magazines, and other digital content for students using their school credentials. They offer a free starter plan that includes hundreds of ebooks and audiobooks.

Because it is backed by OverDrive, students and teachers could browse and borrow titles from their local public library’s digital collection, expanding the number and types of content available to them. Sora also allows teachers, media specialists, and curriculum directors to curate content based on specific needs for teachers and students.

For the OCPS digital media and instruction team, Sora was a great fit because it fulfilled the demand for a broad range of content, provided immediate access to that content, and was familiar due to their experience with OverDrive via the public library system.

Four-Year Implementation Plan

A districtwide implementation of a system like Sora requires an intentional and thoughtful rollout plan. After an optional trial period in 2020-2021, the district began to roll out the implementation in February of 2021 with targeted communications about the platform to district staff, prioritizing principals, media specialists, and curriculum staff. Efforts expanded in March through May to communicate with the broader community through social media, with teachers through professional development sessions, and again with community stakeholders about accessing the service for the district’s summer reading program.

Over the next three years, investments were made to enhance the collection by adding state award titles, digital magazines, and manga (Japanese-style comic books). To achieve this goal, the district required schools to allocate ESSER funds for ebooks. Additionally, the curation process for schools involved analyzing student interests and academic needs, utilizing professional reviews, and seeking stakeholder input on needs and wants. To ensure that all groups knew about and understood the platform, the OCPS team’s communication strategy centered around providing direct support to schools, which included promoting the accessibility features in ebooks, magazines, and audiobooks.

Gauging Success

As part of the program, Sora includes an “Insight Board,” which is a type of dynamic dashboard that provides real-time updates anytime someone takes out a loan with the district or places a hold on a book or specific piece of content. In the last three years, OCPS has had more than 281,000 loans as well as 100,000+ books placed on hold, and in the last two years alone, the district has experienced over 120% checkout growth.

Learn more about this edWeb broadcast, How OCPS Brought Digital Reading to Their Large Urban District, sponsored by Sora.

Watch the RecordingListen to the Podcast

Join the Community

ELA Today is a free professional learning community that provides educators and curriculum leaders with a place to collaborate on best practices for teaching English Language Arts in K12 today.

SoraNamed one of TIME’s Best Inventions, the Sora student reading platform provides every student with access to the right books. Sora is used by 62,000 K-12 schools and millions of students worldwide, supporting the need for required curriculum titles, class sets and pleasure reading with the largest catalog of ebooks, audiobooks, digital magazines and other content. (acquired in 2021) complements Sora with one of the largest sets of book-specific supplemental resources that “bring books to life.” Parent company OverDrive – which also provides digital content to public, academic and corporate libraries through the Libby reading app – was founded in 1986 and is based in Cleveland, Ohio USA.


Article by Ginny Kirkland, based on this edLeader Panel