Empowering Students with Digital Reading: New Products Are Designed to Improve Aptitude, Fulfill Common Core State Standards, Provide Unlimited Access to Online Libraries and Bring 21st-Century Learning into the Classroom

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When Connie Dopierala was hired as the media services administrator for the Charleston County (S.C.) School District, one of her tasks was to update the district's library books. "I was shocked by how dated some of the books were," she says. "One school had a biography on Nelson Mandela that was written while he was still in prison."

Some of the younger librarians suggested buying digital books, but Dopierala was skeptical. "I wanted to prove that kids still love having books in their hands," she says.

As a pilot program, the district purchased 206 digital books for the 2010-2011 school year and measured how often the books were read. Dopierala says the results blew her away. By the end of the school year, those 206 books had been accessed more than 101,000 times by K12 students all over the district. One Title I elementary school had accessed the books 58,000 times.

"The kids were basically voting with the mouse, and they were voting for digital," Dopierala says. "I realized that this is the medium for their generation. It's the medium of the future."

With a coming wave of new digital reading products designed to improve aptitude and provide unlimited access to online libraries, school districts have various options to help bring 21st-century learning in the classroom.

Some teachers and librarians say that digital reading products can personalize learning for struggling students and help interest young readers in nonfiction books, which are a major component in the Common Core State Standards Initiative designed to strengthen current state standards. As school districts across the country struggle under the weight of budget cuts, however, school administrators will need to be creative in finding funding sources.

The digital book market will likely grow as more Americans purchase tablet computers and other digital reading devices. One study from the Pew Research Center shows that the number of adults who own tablet computers rose from 10 percent to 19 percent between mid-December 2011 and early January. The same surge in growth occurred with e-book readers as well, which also jumped from 10 percent to 19 percent over the same time period.

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The Cooney Center, an independent research organization focused on how digital media technology impacts children's learning, is currently conducting a study with 24 families to determine whether young children prefer e-books to regular books. Results are expected to be released later this spring.

Carl Harvey, president of the American Association of School Libraries and a librarian at North Elementary School in Noblesville, Ind., says that librarians will have to adapt and expand their skill sets as libraries adopt new technology. Depending on what types of digital learning programs are used in a district, librarians may need to know how to help children find the right e-books through online libraries, help them navigate online reading programs, or solve problems on iPads and other tablet computers. Harvey says that understanding new technology is a key component in the future role of librarians.

"Librarians will always be an essential part of a school, but we'll have to become more technologically savvy," he says. "It's all part of the evolution. [Technology] is another tool we can utilize to get more kids reading."

MyON Reader Takes Off

Impressed with the results of its digital book experiment, the Charleston County district last summer invested in Capstone Digital's new myON Reader for its elementary and middle schools. Launched in 2011, myON is a personalized Web-based reading program that provides access to more than 2,500 online books. Available for students in pre-K through grade 8, the program is customized to a child's interest and reading ability, which is measured through a series of assessment quizzes.

MyON also develops an individual profile for each student based on interests and then generates a recommended book list. …