Thoughtful Integration

Connecting devices, e-content and management systems to learning

GUEST COLUMN | by John Williams studentsIn this new world of tight budgets and shrinking resources, schools have never been under more pressure than they are now to get the “digital thing” right. Mistakes are costly since many schools do not have the resources to modify, add to, or replace their digital initiatives. The sheer amount of time schools need to place on researching the various options for implementing a digital learning solution can be overwhelming. Unfortunately, too many schools are put into positions where a decision needs to be made immediately with no time for research.

One decision that always seems to be made too quickly is the one that relates to devices. Often, schools are simply stocking their shelves with the latest and greatest hardware to pass out to their students – from tablets and e-readers to laptops and desktop computers. As schools open up their networks to support a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) model, there are dozens of different types of smartphones as well. Content is too often in the position of being an afterthought to the hardware. Although this isn’t  new — schools have always leaned more towards purchasing hardware first, then adding the appropriate learning resources — it certainly isn’t optimum.

The most effective approach to implementing digital learning is to make stronger connections between devices, electronic content and management systems. To accomplish this, schools need to adopt what we call the SAD strategy: Supporting learning objectives, Access for all, and Digital weeding for accountability.

Supporting learning objectives starts with determining the skills where students are struggling and finding the appropriate electronic content to improve those skills. Schools have always excelled in this area; however, this step is skipped when it comes to implementing devices. The danger here is that not all e-content works on every device. The dream of 100 percent device-agnostic e-content doesn’t currently exist. It only makes sense to look at your content needs before purchasing any devices.

Access for all means more than just making sure every student has a device; it includes considering the content management systems. Are usernames required? If so, can they be pulled from your Student Information System? Does the content require a student email address? Does this violate your student privacy policies? Some electronic content systems collect student personal information, like notes for example, to share on public forums. In addition, content license agreements today must address home use, school-owned devices, one-to-one devices and simultaneous access to content. For example, some companies don’t allow schools to use their content on school-owned devices such as classroom computers. Students could use the content on their personal devices, but a teacher couldn’t use the content in his or her classroom.

K12digitaldecisions.comDigital weeding for accountability is the process of evaluating electronic content and its potential impact on learning on a routine and ongoing basis. The goal here is to purchase more of what works and less of what doesn’t. Seems simple enough, but in order conduct such an evaluation, more data is needed than what is provided today by many vendors. Schools need access to comprehensive usage data that can help them understand time on task, subject specific usage — and usage by student type.

There are people and resources committed to helping educators make informed digital decisions to truly improve student learning. is one such resource, dedicated to assisting schools facing the challenges of digital integration. These day, the challenges can seem daunting, but finding the right information to create the best digital integration strategy possible for your specific needs is a great way to get started.


John Williams is the Director of Digital Products, Follett Library Resources. Write to:


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