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SETDA guide urges educators to focus on the process, not the purchase

Commentary: Leaders from SETDA and the Oregon Department of Education describe the process of reviewing and adopting quality instructional materials.

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Questioning the quality of instructional materials isn’t unique to the digital education era. But with the rise of open educational resources (OER), the growing use of supplemental resources over core textbooks and the increasing flexibility of state funding, purchasing decisions are continuing to shift away from the states and move toward the school and district level.

Thus, there is the potential for more disparity in the quality of materials from school to school.

Confronted by concerns from its members that schools and districts might not be buying the highest quality resources, SETDA (the State Educational Technology Directors Association) recently updated its Guide to Quality Instructional Materials, which was introduced during a recent webinar entitled, "From Print to Digital: Discover and Implement Quality Instructional Materials for Learning."

The emphasis of the guide, according to Christine Fox, deputy executive director for SETDA, is not on critiquing specific content but in helping educators develop an ongoing review process and giving content providers a concrete outline for how the process should work.

The first task of the guide, which was assembled by a large taskforce of state and district edtech leaders, private sector partners and stakeholders, is to provide a definition: Quality instructional materials are content-rich materials, aligned to standards that are fully accessible and free from bias. They support sound pedagogy and balanced assessment to help teachers understand and interpret student performance.

As important as it is to have a definition and criteria, though, SETDA also emphasized the need for state-level leadership. Even in states that don’t have statewide instructional materials adoptions, departments of education must provide schools and districts with vision, guidance and support. State leaders need to make sure they are giving educators the tools they need to be able to select the best materials for the classroom, Fox said.

The authors of the latest SETDA guide expanded on several key subject areas in the report, including planning for purchases in respect to curriculum standards; interoperability, privacy and accessibility considerations; and professional learning. In addition, there is a separate section on vetting OER.

Jeremy Wartz, a program analyst and instructional materials coordinator with the Oregon Department of Education, reiterated the need for following the adoption process every time. Presenting during the webinar, Wartz offered insights into Oregon’s approval procedures for adopting core curriculum materials. (Oregon does not adopt supplemental resources.) Many aspects of the adoption process are similar to what SETDA recommends in its guide: developing review criteria, notifying publishers of the considerations, training the reviewers before evaluation, and publishing the scores.

Schools are not required to adopt from the list. However, if they choose to conduct an independent review, they are required to use a process similar to the state’s to ensure materials meet the adoption criteria.

While Oregon does not specify or require a percentage of digital components in the materials, most schools have now incorporated digital resources into their classrooms, Wartz said. He believes there are three reasons why the schools have embraced the shift.

  • A change in policy to allow recommended programs to include OER.
  • Increased flexibility in adoption options.
  • Additional state resources to aid the transition.

Again, just as SETDA’s “Guide to Quality Instructional Materials” is focused on developing procedures for evaluating materials, Oregon’s statutes are meant to ensure that educators take an informed approach to assessing quality, not dictate exact purchases.

SETDA’s guide also wants to make sure the focus is on the teaching and not the device.

“Although not everyone is there yet, we do believe that personalizing instruction is much more than the technology itself, but really about changing [the] teaching and learning opportunities,” said Fox. “Learning more about how quality content can support … quality instruction is helpful, and the guide can support [teachers’] work in many ways.”

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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.

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

The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

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Education IT News, K-12, Policy, EdWeb, SETDA, Oregon Department of Education

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