Rethink Remake

Six factors driving today’s digital transition.

GUEST COLUMN | by Scott Kinney

Discovery Education I can learnOver the last decade, a convergence of economic, political, social and technological forces have spurred educators, parents, students, policymakers, academics and other stakeholders to rethink and, in many ways, remake teaching and learning. The shift from static textbooks to dynamic and engaging digital content as a core instructional resource is a part of the ongoing education revolution. In forward-thinking school systems nationwide, textbooks, as much a symbol of learning as the teacher’s apple, are being replaced by rich digital content and the “sage on stage” is being replaced by authentic learning environments that mirror students’ lives outside the classroom.

So, what is driving this transition to digital resources? Here are my thoughts, gathered from working with school systems across the country as they transform teaching and learning with digital content:

Today’s Students Are Plugged In — Plainly put, we know today’s students are interacting with content much differently than any previous generation of learners. The most recent data from the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that students today spend an average of 7.5 hours a day with digital media. Progressive school systems know they can leverage today’s students’ familiarity with digital content to more deeply engage them in learning.

Technology Makes Differentiated Instruction More Scalable — Just as we know students are deeply engaged with digital media, we know that each student learns differently, and that the best classroom instruction is tailored to the individual student’s learning style. However, in a classroom of 25 or 30 students, differentiating instruction can be difficult.

Educational technologies and digital content empower the educator to quickly and efficiently reach each student regardless of how, or at what pace, they learn. With digital content, teachers can sort and assign students the text, ebooks, interactives, videos, animations or audio that meets their learning style. In addition, when digital content is combined with formative assessment, an effective system of measuring each student’s progress and personalizing instruction is created, even further amplifying the teacher’s ability to provide individualized instruction.

Digital Content in Schools Can Help Close the Digital Divide — One common obstacle to the digital transition I’ve heard is that because some students lack Internet access at home, we should  maintain the status quo, as it would not be fair for some students to have access to digital content outside the classroom while others do not.

A growing number of school administrators I’ve worked with believe that denying students the opportunity to interact with digital technologies and content in the classroom actually widens the digital divide. According to these leaders, by not providing students access to the digital world in schools, we are denying students the very experiences that will prepare them to compete in today’s technologically driven workplace.

Educators Know There is No One Model For the Digital Transition — No two school systems are alike. Administrators and teachers differ, technological capacities differ, financial resources differ, parent and community engagement differ, as do hundreds of other factors.

Given the tremendous variance in types of school systems, why should models for the digital transition be similar? I have seen countless creative ways school administrators, principals, and educators have collaborated to integrate digital content into classroom instruction. In BYOD environments to one-to-one settings, to classrooms with only one computer station, educators are pushing forward and creatively tailoring plans to create authentic digital learning environments that rely on the talents and resources already in place.

The Financials — The average cost of a traditional textbook is approximately $70 per student. However, with the cost of digital textbooks hovering between $38-$55 dollars per student for a six year subscription, substantial savings can be realized. Additional savings can be found by school systems once shipping, storage, replacement and other secondary costs are factored into the equation.

Transitioning to digital content does take a reorientation of fiscal priorities, but school systems like the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina show that it can be done.  The district ranks 101 out of 117 statewide in per pupil expenditure. Yet, they reprioritized their funding and made the decision to transition to a paperless learning environment in just a few years.

Great Leadership — Mooresville’s example, I believe, is indicative of what I think is the most critical driver of all: great leadership from the top levels of school administration.

Led by Superintendent Mark Edwards, Mooresville’s district leadership has worked collaboratively with teachers and their community to reprioritize spending and put into place the needed resources to implement their vision of the modern digital school. This change in culture resulted in student proficiency on state exams rising from 73 percent to 86 percent over a three-year period. This impressive 13 percent gain in scores tied the district for second place within the state while maintaining fiscal discipline.

There are similar examples of excellent leadership nationwide. In Florida’s Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Superintendent Alberto Carvalho is leading efforts to infuse digital resources into district schools to make learning more relevant for their students. In the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District in Alaska, school leaders have pledged to increase engagement by embedding 21st Century skills into instructional practice and have provided the content and professional development to ensure that every teacher is meeting their potential to design and deliver instruction using the best practices for digital media.

These are just a few of the hundreds of great examples of outstanding leadership in the digital transition across the country. And it is these examples that make me believe that we are rapidly moving in the right direction in our shared goal to give each student the modern learning environment they need for college, careers and citizenship.

Scott Kinney is senior vice president of Discovery Education, a global leader in transforming teaching and learning with digital textbooks, multimedia content that supports the implementation of the Common Core, professional development, assessment tools and one of the largest professional learning communities of its kind. An acknowledged thought leader with more than 20 years of experience in the education industry, Kinney works closely with educators and administrators nationwide to develop customized solutions that support their strategic goals and empower them to make the digital transition. Visit


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