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Schools Accelerate Shift to Digital

Miami-Dade Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho discusses his district’s technology plans at the Discovery Education and Digital Promise future@now conference in April. Districts are trading print for digital textbooks, with 22 states making significant digital content policy changes in recent years—altering the definition of a textbook and encouraging flexible funding, says Geoff Fletcher, deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA). SETDA recommends districts complete the shift from print to digital within the next five years, and several have successfully started the transition.

For example, Utah is implementing a statewide Open Educational Resources (OER) project for science textbooks, which involves high-quality, openly licensed education materials that are free for any district to use. A group of teachers across the state adapted six science textbooks for grades 7 through 12 from, a nonprofit foundation that creates and aggregates STEM content, to fit Utah’s standards. Schools can begin using the new texts in the fall, which will be free for anyone to view or print in PDF form.

The PDF textbooks are less expensive to print out, and can still be accessed online and constantly updated. “It sets the stage to support change based on innovation in science and education,” says Sarah Young, a science specialist at the Utah State Office of Education. “No one wants to have the textbook in their classroom that says Pluto is a planet.”

When planning for technology upgrades in Miami-Dade Public Schools, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho had two large factors to consider: online testing for the Common Core, and the state graduation requirement for high school students to take at least one online course. With a federal matching program called Education Rate, the district expanded wireless access to all 400 schools, and began investing less in brick and mortar facilities and more in digital content and personal devices to guarantee equitable access to online resources.

Administrators shouldn’t wait for an “ideal time” to implement digital textbooks, Carvalho says. “It’s a matter of reprioritizing your budget, identifying where you are, and using data to communicate to your community and state leaders that something dramatic needs to change in your district,” he says.

To help in the digital transition, districts have free trial access to Discovery Education’s Techbook series at through a partnership among ISTE, Connect2Compete, Digital Promise, and Discovery Education. The digital textbooks feature K12 science, physics, chemistry, and biology, and middle school social studies. Discovery Education and ISTE are also providing virtual professional development to support educators.