When digitizing your curriculum, think coordination

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With all of the digital tools available to teachers these days, developing learning experiences should be a cinch, right? While virtual resources abound, the systems are not coordinated well enough to fully address teachers’ curriculum-design needs and to support them as they help students build a coherent body of knowledge.

But there are solutions, some already in place, that are making it easier to design quality curricula that truly benefit learners.

In a recent webinar hosted by edWeb.net, edtech experts say that coordinated digitization can help teachers more efficiently create standards-aligned curricula.

“Many of us live in this world where you have to find resources to build a curriculum that leverages standards to help move students build a body of knowledge,” said Daniel Ralyea, director of the Office of Research and Data Analysis at the South Carolina Department of Education. “But it’s all over the place, with the various textbooks, standards, digital search engines, and vendors.”

Ralyea knows the challenge of haphazard coordination well, having lived it in South Carolina, where he had to work with a standards-based report card. While developing curricula, he also looked at the vertical articulation of standards and then cut and pasted them to align with varied curricular elements.

“It was very difficult and incredibly time consuming to that organization, and to do it for multiple subjects and multiple preps.” Ralyea said. “And then sharing it with people meant handing over a document or a PDF, at best.”

This scattershot method begs the question: Where’s the efficiency? Full coordinated digitization is what’s envisioned by Ralyea, and his co-presenter, Mark T. Masterson, vice president of government solutions at the edtech firm LearningMate.

Interoperability and identification

Masterson emphasized interoperability as the ideal approach, the integration of resources and standards to curricula creation, vetting and sharing. This, added Ralyea, eases the labor-intensive process at play when teachers are bringing content to life. 

“In an ideal world, your state would produce a machine-readable standard translated into an easily consumable format,” Ralyea said. “They would be delivered to your learning management system or downloaded into an Excel notebook, or whatever vehicle can absorb them.”

The standards, he said, would then get tagged with an ID number. If a standard changed, the ID would allow component systems to detect that change and automatically update resources.

With a fully automated central source of resources, Ralyea said, teachers across a state would be able to produce lesson plans and other digital learning materials with options to, for example, drag and drop standards to form a unit, fill in a pacing guide with the associated standards-aligned support document, or use an interactive rubric to evaluate an assessment or link to a vendor product.

What’s out there

Just a dream? Not really. Fully coordinated digitization is a real possibility given existing programs. 

Ralyea said a major aspect of digitization is the ability to share standardized resources with peers. That’s already happening with tools like Google Classroom. Imagine this sharing option built into a coordinated system that allows for greater curricular adaptation and usage.

Several vendors produce tools that correspond with the Competencies and Academic Standards Exchange, or CASE, specifications that define how systems exchange and manage information about learning standards and competencies in a digitally-referenceable way. (Goodbye PDFs!)

Open educational resources are materials in the public domain. As people crowdsource or review these materials, Ralyea said, they can link to the standards to ensure entries are juried and of high quality. These typically rely on a resource pool and its state-defined linkages.

A product called LearningMate ACMT is what Ralyea envisions as the best way to coordinate digitization. It’s a fully digital authoring and communication platform that facilitates the management and dissemination of education competencies and standards, streamlining teacher workflow, organizing standards and connecting districts. 

Moving forward

Coordinated digitization is happening but not at scale.

Teachers need to let stakeholders know that digitization could make their work easier and less time consuming, enabling them to better support students. They should reach out to their principals and parent teacher associations to get the process started.

Stakeholders should assess their digital beliefs to see where they stand and also consider tech affordability and accessibility with regard to digitization.

Everyone should ask questions about systems under consideration, such as: Will there be linkages to a learning management system? Will the system provide access to evidence-based resources? Do vendors use CASE? 

The goal of digitization overall? To Ralyea, it is to remove the challenges involved with creating and sharing curricula by doing it “just a little bit better.” 

About the presenters

Daniel Ralyea is director of the Office of Research and Data Analysis at the South Carolina Department of Education. His deep interest in education, process improvement, SAS programming and data-driven decision making have shaped his career path. Six Sigma training provided him with the background to identify and capitalize on professional opportunities. Dan believes the education industry is poised to merge educators’ passions for teaching and learning with data that maximizes their effectiveness. He wants to be a catalyst for that merger.

Mark T. Masterson is vice president of government solutions at LearningMate. He works with the company’s technology and business intelligence teams to devise scalable and sustainable technology solutions, while guiding content development and technology accelerators to better support state and local education agencies. Mark is a customer-focused business leader with extensive experience leading large-scale business and IT transformations. Prior to LearningMate, Mark served as an IT executive at Fortune 500 companies including American Airlines, DHL, and most recently, as the chief information officer at Arizona’s Department of Education. 

Join the community

Innovation in Education is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net that brings together teachers, administrators, researchers, and policymakers to foster collaboration in improving education. 

The edWeb webinar referenced above, sponsored by LearningMate, can be found here.

Michele Israel writes about the ideas and best practices that are shared in edWeb’s edWebinars so they can spread innovative and best practices to the education community. Michele owns Michele Israel Consulting, LLC, which serves large and small educational, nonprofit, media, corporate, eLearning, and blended-learning organizations to bolster products and programs. Her rich career spans over 25 years of successfully developing educational materials and resources, designing and facilitating training, generating communication materials and grant proposals, and assisting in organizational and program development. In addition to lesson plans and other teacher resources, Michele’s portfolio includes published articles covering a range of educational and business topics.

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