SETDA resource helps states grapple with adopting digital instructional materials


As state and school leaders confront the growing influence of technology in education, the need for guidance continues to grow on how best to establish policies and practices for implementing digital instructional materials.

In a webinar Thursday, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), along with education officials from Louisiana and California, addressed exactly that, building on recommendations from a report issued earlier this summer.

The report, titled Navigating the Digital Shift II: Implementing Digital Instructional Materials for Learning, expands upon its first installment, released in 2015, by adding a “focus on living and learning in the digital age.” Navigating the Digital Shift II offers guidance and best practices for implementing digital instructional materials in each state, giving special consideration to the importance of state leadership, accessibility, equity of access and state acquisition policies.

During Thursday’s webinar, education officials shared details about the comprehensive review processes their states have established for adopting digital instructional materials.

Whitney Whealdon, director of academic content at the Louisiana Department of Education, said that while digital access is obviously important, it can’t be used to its full potential unless students and educators have access to high-quality instructional materials to start.

To connect teachers and administrators with high-quality materials, Louisiana developed a robust, entirely-digital review process. State policy urges school districts to “adopt digital instructional materials to the extent possible,” Whealdon said.

“Our job is providing reviews and making sure [districts] make informed purchases,” Whealdon said in an interview prior to the webinar. “That way, districts can more easily get access to higher quality materials.”

Louisiana’s education department started reviewing materials for districts across the state in 2013. When they reviewed the English/language arts curriculum, “we saw gaps,” she said. “We discovered, at that point, we didn’t have the materials we needed for teachers in English/language arts.”

The state, in response, decided to build its own English curriculum from scratch. The department identified more than 65 teachers from across the state to help pull together a completely-digital, high-quality curriculum for grades 3-12. Today, it’s used by over 80 percent of Louisiana school districts.

“We continue to see districts adopt it more and more. It has everything a teacher might need,” Whealdon said.

“We believe when teachers are using the best curriculum effectively, it gives all students access to the highest quality education,” she added. “When we can’t find it, we build it.”

Christine Fox, deputy executive director of SETDA and moderator of Thursday’s webinar, said Louisiana serves as a model for others looking to “help ensure that quality instruction is in the hands of students in their state.”

California, too, can be an example for other states, Fox said. The state’s superintendent of public instruction openly encourages digital materials and devices to aid in teaching and professional development. In fact, since January 2014, California has required that any adopted instructional materials come with a digital equivalent.

During the webinar, Cliff Rudnick, an administrator in the instructional resources division of the California Department of Education, discussed some of those state policies that favor digital instructional materials. Rudnick was not available for an interview.

Ultimately, individual districts get to decide which instructional materials to adopt, but states still have a key role to play in that decision-making, Fox said.

“When states have a review/adoption process, this offers districts — especially smaller ones with limited resources — the opportunity to implement quality materials with the confidence that they have been reviewed and align to standards,” she told EdScoop.

California and Louisiana, for example, have used their roles for the betterment of school districts in their states.

“These states provide tremendous leadership and guidance for their schools to support quality content that is aligned to standards,” Fox said. “These efforts allow schools and districts to leverage both the published recommendations and if necessary the review process to help ensure that the materials they select best match their needs.”

Though SETDA’s research indicates that both federal- and state-level policies are embracing the digital shift, Fox noted ways that state and education leaders can continue to support technology integration and digital instruction.

“As content shifts to digital and provides for opportunities for innovation and personalization, policies regarding seat-time, assessments and course credits need to be more flexible,” she said.