A Revolution on Hold: As Policymakers Move to Broaden the Availability of Digital Content in Education, Barriers of Funding, Bandwidth, Training, and Bureaucracy Are Making It a Slow Go

By Fletcher, Geoffrey H. | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), June-July 2010 | Go to article overview

A Revolution on Hold: As Policymakers Move to Broaden the Availability of Digital Content in Education, Barriers of Funding, Bandwidth, Training, and Bureaucracy Are Making It a Slow Go


Fletcher, Geoffrey H., T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


WHOEVER BROUGHT into the vernacular the principle of "Go big or go home" didn't account for the K-12 community, where action tends to come little by little. Consider the status of the digital revolution. In their push toward using digital content in the classroom, many schools are stuck in second gear until basic changes to both infrastructure and entrenched habits are made. But even as school districts grapple with making those changes, policymakers have begun to move forward.

Across the country, legislators and boards of education are changing state textbook policies to allow for greater availability of digital content and open education resources, and to provide districts more ways to use funds for electronic textbook and instructional materials. Some of these efforts are directed at saving money, but some are a reflection of policymakers' understanding that students of today need, and in some cases are demanding, more engaging content.

* Texas passed two laws to make the way in which districts acquire instructional resources more flexible. HB 4294 creates a list of digital materials approved by the state's commissioner of education, effectively bypassing the politically charged, not easily traversed State Board of Education process. In addition, districts can use some of their textbook money to purchase technology. The second law, HB 2488, encourages the use of open educational resources that match up with the state's curriculum standards. The bill also creates an avenue for the state to develop and own materials that it can provide to districts at no charge. When the law is fully implemented, districts in Texas will have many more options for acquiring textbooks and digital content. In addition, the business model for creating, selling, and distributing textbooks and digital content may be altered depending upon the extent to which the state chooses to create its own materials.

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* West Virginia passed Senate Bill 631, which lumps textbooks, instructional materials, and learning technologies under the umbrella of instructional resources; allows new instructional resources to be added to the state-approved list outside the normal adoption cycle; and permits districts to seek a waiver to the adoption cycle to purchase off-cycle materials.

* In California, according to the governor's office, the Digital Textbook Initiative has resulted in "30 free digital texts available for use in the classroom that can provide a more interactive experience for students and cost districts less." The "interactive experience" is hardly interactive. It's a PDF of content that must be frozen for two years unless the publisher wishes to resubmit the materials again; still, it is an improvement over a traditional textbook. The content, as the governor's office notes, is "downloadable and can be projected on a screen or viewed on a computer or handheld device. [It] can also be printed chapter by chapter, bound for use in the classroom, and taken home by students." And above all, it doesn't cost the state a cent.

* Indiana changed its formal definition of textbooks to include electronic materials. "Essentially," says Marvin Bailey of the Indiana Department of Education, "this interpretation permits school corporations to utilize digital resources, including the computer, to provide instructional curriculum."

* Virginia created its own FlexBook, a free, open-content, custom textbook introduced by the nonprofit organization CK-12. The state put out a call for teachers to write chapters of develop lab experiments related to emerging fields in physics--including biophysics, quantum mechanics, and relativity. The FlexBook is maintained online for instructor use, and teachers are able to post updates, corrections, and suggestions.

* Florida, Georgia, and Louisiana are all currently considering laws that would add more flexibility to the adoption process. …

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