This week, we held a digital summit that was the culmination of a needs assessment conducted by OpenEd Solutions. This consultant group was hired to assess the current situation concerning digital learning in Kentucky and produce recommendations for possible legislative and regulatory changes needed to support the enhancement of digital learning in the state. The recommendations will be informed by the needs assessment and the recent report Digital Learning Now.
Prior to the digital summit, several articles caught my attention. An article in the Huffington Post – “Many U.S. Schools Adding iPads, Trimming Textbooks” -- discussed the emerging trend of digital textbooks using the iPad as the platform. Recently, we announced the launch of iTunes U at Woodford County High School, and that district was mentioned in the article as one of over 600 school districts in the nation that have launched a 1:1 tablet project to provide digital learning resources and textbooks to students. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has developed a digital version of the Algebra II textbook with free interactive digital resources for students and teachers. The digital textbook sells for $60, and the hardcover sells for $73. It is yet to be seen if publishers will offer digital textbooks and materials at a significant savings that in turn could be used to purchase tablets or netbooks. Our recommendations from the digital report will certainly have to discuss funding models that allow districts to use textbook funding (if we ever have textbook funds again) for the purchase of digital resources and equipment.
A key question to be addressed will be student and teacher access to websites. Currently, our state and many districts interpret Internet protection regulations very stringently. This means students and teachers often complain to the technology staff that important resources are not accessible. In the New York Times this past weekend, I read an article on how students are helping teachers find ways around district/school Internet firewalls to access Facebook. Given the innovation of our students, it is impossible to successfully block inappropriate sites. Our digital report will certainly have to address this issue and how we manage access in the future, given limited resources.
Finally, the ultimate question relates to student learning outcomes. Does digital learning make a difference in student learning outcomes? In another New York Times article, “In Classroom of Future, Stagnant Scores,” the Kyrene School District in Arizona is highlighted. This district is a suburban district that obtained, through a ballot initiative, $33 million for investments in technology. Every classroom is a “classroom of the future,” with Smartboards, wireless, response devices and computers. As the district prepares to continue the technology focus with a $56 million ballot initiative this fall, concerns have risen over stagnant test scores in reading and math. Professor Larry Cuban from Stanford University says there is no evidence in the research that technology enhances student learning outcomes, and there seems to be no justification for this level of expenditure. Teachers in the district question the funding for technology in a time of tight budgets and lack of resources such as paper and Kleenex for classrooms.
Digital learning in Kentucky is at a crossroads. Certainly, any use of resources must focus on student learning with the outcome of college/career readiness for all students. In a time of limited resources, do we support digital learning expenditures? Look for next week’s blog, when I’ll discuss this important question.