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

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To refocus classrooms around up-and-coming digital materials, more is required than just adding a new tech-based product or two. That’s because many processes for reviewing and purchasing instructional materials are still built around print textbooks.

Now, though, some states are going back to the basics and rethinking how they review instructional materials and allocate funds to ensure they are focused on the realities of the 21st century classroom.

During a recent webinar, Christine Fox, deputy executive director of SETDA (the State Educational Technology Directors Association), toured the updated DMAPS (Digital Instructional Materials Acquisition Policies for States) site and discussed the importance of state leadership in transitioning to digital instructional materials.

André 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 be digital-first.

Nevada switches from outdated to innovative method

Currently, Nevada has what DeLeón described as an outdated method for reviewing materials.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 stand by and wait for a decision, and materials are approved on a case-by-case basis.

In the new procedure being developed, the process is flipped. The review starts 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, DeLeón said.

“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 importantly, the new 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 curricula and their digital platform.

Florida districts at varying stages of digital transition

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. In this model, districts must spend 50 percent of their funding on materials from the adoption list, but then they can spend the other 50 percent on materials of their choice. Harte explained that the 50-50 option allows for local control across the state.

Due to the differences among Florida’s 60-plus school districts, the schools are at varying stages of the digital transition. Pinellas County, for example, has a blended model working toward a full one-to-one program. Select schools in Orange County, meanwhile, are part of LaunchED, an immersive, connected and collaborative learning experience providing students with access to digital tools and resources.

As Fox pointed out in her discussion of the new DMAPS, states have individual approaches to incorporating digital materials in their classrooms, and they are updating these practices constantly.

One key element in most of the initiatives, including Florida’s and Nevada’s new approaches, 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.

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.

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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.

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

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