3 Ways to Build a Digital Content Library: Districts Are Mining a Variety of Sources for Materials That Meet the Needs of the 21st Century Classroom and Align with Common Core Standards

By McCrea, Bridget | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), January 2014 | Go to article overview

3 Ways to Build a Digital Content Library: Districts Are Mining a Variety of Sources for Materials That Meet the Needs of the 21st Century Classroom and Align with Common Core Standards


McCrea, Bridget, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


AS DISTRICTS IN 45 STATES put the final touches on their Common Core-aligned curricula, they are depending more and more on digital educational content. But where do all these new materials come from? Some districts look to outside vendors, others create everything they need in-house, and some use a hybrid of these two approaches. Here's a look at how educators across the country are building their repositories of digital content.

The Hybrid Approach

According to Matt Zuchowicz, director of educational technology services for the 20 school districts served by the Santa Barbara County Education Office, these districts were among the first in California to develop an online portal to deliver digital content. Zuchowicz said, "We built out the 'shell' of the portal and then filled it in using a number of streaming resources." The portal is populated with teacher-produced digital content as well as materials from outside sources like Lesson Planet, World Book and Mouse 101 (a local firm). Video streaming comes from CaliforniaStreaming, a service that is supported and run by 17 county education offices in the state. Economies of scale have worked in SBCEO's favor. "We buy at discounted rates because we're buying in bulk," Zuchowicz said.

The SBCEO and its partners keep tabs on all digital content to ensure that it adheres to copyright law. For example, some videos can only be streamed, not downloaded. "We monitor all of that very closely," Zuchowicz said, "and we trust that our vendors are meeting the same copyright laws." (For an education law expert's take on this issue, see THE Journal's article "Staying on the Right Side of Copyright in Education.")

As part of its digital strategy, the SBCEO has also been filling its coffers with materials that align with the Common Core State Standards. This is where external vendors can prove their worth, according to Zuchowicz, who after several years of working with online content platforms said that attempting to develop 100 percent of the materials from scratch would be challenging for the typical district. "Realistically," he explained, "it's hard for a district to have the internal capacity to create the necessary depth of digital resources to provide a rigorous, CCSS-aligned curriculum for students."

At the same time, he added, "Teachers are really hungry for these lessons that we're getting from sources like Lesson Planet, which offers content that's already aligned with CCSS."

The Wiki-based Library

As K-12 schools nationwide explore their digital content options and try to come up with solutions that meet the needs of the 21st century classroom and align with CCSS, districts like Vail School District in Tucson, AZ, have a head start in the race to develop and maintain digital content repositories. According to Debbie Hedgepeth, assistant superintendent, the district worked with 50 others across the state to create a wiki-based library of lesson plans, quizzes, interactive Web links, ideas, presentations and related content.

That information wasn't always so well organized and accessible. "We originally had stacks of binders that housed all of the materials created by our teachers," said Hedgepeth. "Our goal was to find a good way to organize that information on the Web so that teachers, students and parents could access it." After deciding on the wiki-based approach, the district turned to its teachers--all of whom already had a strong grasp of their respective curricula and the related state guidelines for that content. This fact alone would become a key driver of Vail School District's DIY approach to digital content development.

"Our teachers started creating their own content because they knew what their targets were and how to keep their students focused on those goals," Hedgepeth explained. "Overtime, more and more instructional content was added to the repository and used --to the point where we haven't done a textbook adoption in over 10 years. …

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