Author Archive

Premium Content: Vander Ark Revisited

SETDA’s report, “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook
in a Digital Age,”
put a solid stake in the ground for moving from print to
digital.  The report offered a
rationale for the shift, four case studies of states that are well down the
path toward making the shift, as well as thumbnail sketches of other states
making policy moves. It also provided insights for the necessary conditions for
making the shift, and offered specific recommendations to address K-12
instructional materials needs. Throughout, the report presented indications of drivers of the change,
including the economy, the desire for flexibility in funding at the district
and school level, concomitant changes in assessment and professional learning, and,
of course, the changing nature of students and how they interact with
technology and the world in general.
We did not, however, take a detailed look at drivers.  In a recent post on Getting Smart, Tom Vander Ark did.  Most who read Digital Content Chronicle probably saw Tom’s post, but even if you
did, it is worth another look.

Tom knocks down the straw man of the death of premium
content and traditional textbook publishers, provides a list of twelve trends
shaping the development of digital content and even adds examples of products
or services for each.  He lays out
a strong case for a continuation of a need for premium content, but only in a
different looking system in which the content is “smart” and the need for
content related services grows.  He
lists specific growth areas such as professional development, and argues that
it may take a decade for the market to shift from 7-year adoption cycles to
subscription bundles for content and related services.

I wonder if publically traded companies like the major
textbook companies will be able to withstand a decade-long transition where
revenue is dwindling in the old model. Can they wait for the new model to kick
in? Tom does note how those publishers
are sticking their toes in the water, but no one seems to be jumping in. Others are diving in head first. Grants from a
variety of philanthropic organizations and entities like NSF are providing
funding and new energy to the field.

Some of us have been calling for an active effort to create new
business models for years, and that is one of one of the core recommendations
of “Out of Print.” The accelerator will be new business models that are developed collaboratively with states and other major purchasers to encourage rapid ‘buy-in.’ Vander Ark’s post
is chock full of examples and rationale both for why and how the shift will
continue with some things old, some things borrowed, and a lot of things new.  Check it out; it is worth a bookmark for future reference to see how things are progressing.

The OER Spirit in the Cathedral and the Bazaar

My work with digital content in general and OER in particular is often at the policy level. I am not as fortunate as colleagues in the field such as Karen Fasimpaur who get to work with teachers, often directly in the classroom. Nonetheless, I do talk with teachers from time to time and they have questions similar to those that policymakers ask such as, “How do you find good quality OER?” After I mumble something like, “Go to the Creative Commons site and click on Explore and go to ISKME and their OER Commons site,” I try to tell them that the best quality comes from the users. That is, while OER is content, it also is open. Thus, users should contribute content, but they also should also use it and modify it to meet their needs and their students’ needs.

This notion was reinforced in an excellent blog post by Ian Quillen in Mind/Shift. Ian quotes Bill Fitzgerald, the founder of FunnyMonkey, during a presentation at Educon 2.5: “People often hear the content piece rather than the open piece,” said Fitzgerald. “And it shifts [an understanding] about what open content is.”
Quillen’s post goes on to delineate a framework of nine tips Fitzgerald offers based on “The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary,” which is characterized as “an evolving book” by Eric Raymond the author of the book. Fitzgerald’s tips are not only are practical, they also embrace the spirit of open. The tips are simple and common sense, yet valuable: “Good content comes from personal passion,” “Licensing is important,” “Hands off the lessons you’ve tired of.”

The next time a teacher asks about open educational resources and what they mean, refer them to these nine tips. They should get the essence of the OER spirit.

Pubs – Don’t Forget OER!

We in the ed tech world are fortunate to have a wide range of coverage of our segment of the industry, from traditional trade publications like T.H.E. Journal, eSchool News and Tech and Learning, to a variety of blogs as well as entities like EdSurge that have a focus on the business and especially start-up side. (It seems weird to have traditional publications in a field that I have always considered young, but I remind myself –truth in reporting – I worked for T.H.E. Journal for 16 years.) We still are a small market segment, and I consider some of the editors, publishers and writers for these “publications,” to be colleagues and some of them are friends. So call this a friendly plea to think a bit differently, and help our readers do the same, especially when covering “traditional” topics. I will pick on eSchool News as an example, but it can be true of any of the ‘traditional’ trade publications. My plea concerns OER. In otherwise interesting articles, eSchool News missed great opportunities to bring the notion of open educational resources to its readers.

For example, the article “Tips for understanding copyright rules” was a good refresher on Copyright 101, and provided some fair use guidelines for different types of works, as well as the four factors of fair use doctrine (say that four times fast). Toward the end of the article, I kept looking for the section on Open Educational Resources and how they are different from the traditionally licensed textbooks used in schools. Alas, that section was not there – but it could have been.

Next I read another article in eSN, “Publishers answering the call for digital textbooks.” The author spotlighted five entities providing “digital textbooks”: Apple iBooks, CK-12 Foundation, Kno, Discovery Education and McGraw-Hill. Each has interesting and attractive features and capabilities, all of which are likely to help keep students engaged. What was not explored in the description of these products was how they were licensed and how that licensing may effect how the content could be used by the teachers and students. To more and more teachers, materials licensed with a Creative Commons license that allows remix and redistribution options are becoming appealing. This added flexibility allows teachers to provide instructional materials more individually suited for each student.

So I send my plea for writers and editors in the education market and especially in the educational technology space to provide an additional angle for your increasing coverage of digital content: Don’t forget the positive role that OER can play as the instructional materials market evolves to a more flexible, user-friendly space.

Two Superintendents Who Get It

A news story out of central Florida caught my eye recently with the headline: “Schools Moving Toward Digital Textbooks.” Many of these stories in local papers talk about a district’s purchase of devices and “how excited and engaged students are in their learning.” As a former editor, I always asked my writers to NOT give our readers those kinds of quotes. Of course the students are excited; they just got a cool device. Of course they are engaged; they are working with a device that offers all kinds of different approaches to interact beyond reading a flat textbook. These approaches are similar to those they use outside of school – the ones they choose to use when they have a choice.
This article has some of that, but it also has a couple of tidbits.

The first is a reference to Mooresville, NC schools. This oft-cited school has a truly forward leaning superintendent, Mark Edwards, who actually tracks the data in his schools and is interested in the impact the innovations he has implemented have on student achievement. He is quoted as saying, “We’re currently 100th in the state in funding and second in the state in overall academic achievement.” That is the kind of information that school board members, legislators and other policy makers want to hear. The policy makers are OK with excitement and engagement, but they usually are not willing to plunk down hundreds of thousands of dollars on changes that have little or no evidence of impact on student learning.

The other tidbit is something I have been waiting to hear educators say, and it comes from another superintendent, Dr. Casey Wardynski of Huntsville City Schools in Alabama. The quote is worth including it in its entirety.
“A lot of people when they think about digital education or digital conversion, they are thinking e-books and Kindles. That’s the weakest form. The strongest form looks almost like a game a child will play. So in the middle school curriculum, by the time a child solves the problem, they’ve already got 12 windows open, they’ve got a Cartesian coordinate, they have video running of the lesson, they can pull up a textbook or a piece of the lesson. They can also bring up 300 other textbooks.”

I would bet that if you asked Wardynski, he could tell you how student achievement has been impacted in Huntsville schools or he can tell you of the plan they have to track it.
I wonder how many other superintendents there are out there who can cite that kind of data that Edwards does or who has the kind of sophisticated understanding of the technology that Wardynski does.

Policymakers, K-12 School Leaders Must Address Technology Needs For College And Career Ready Teaching, Learning And Assessment

On December 4, 2012, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) released guidance for policymakers and K-12 school leaders on school technology readiness needs for college and career ready teaching, learning and assessment.

As schools and districts across the country continue to move forward in implementing the Common Core State Standards, two multi-state consortia – the Partnership for the Assessment of College and Career Readiness (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortia – are designing and developing Common Core-aligned, next generation student assessment systems. Schools in participating states can expect to administer these new tests beginning in the 2014-15 school year. One important feature shared by both the PARCC and Smarter Balanced assessment systems is that student assessments will be technology-delivered.

At least 33 states currently deliver one or more state tests via technology; however, for many schools and districts the shift to computer-based assessment will be new. There are compelling advantages to a technology-based assessment system as compared to current paper- and pencil-based approaches, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has noted, “The use of smarter technology in assessments will especially alter instruction in ways that teachers welcome.”

In making plans with respect to minimum and recommended technology specifications being released by PARCC and Smarter Balanced, school leaders must consider this information in the context of the full range of technology issues schools are addressing today.

“Policymakers and education leaders must undertake a proactive systems approach to addressing school technology needs for the long-term,” said Douglas Levin, SETDA executive director. “To meet present and future technology needs, any realistic approach must consider curricular, instructional, assessment, professional development and school operations goals.”

For more information and to download “Technology Readiness for College and Career Ready Teaching, Learning and Assessment,” please visit:

Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age

Today the State Educational Technology Directors Association
(SETDA) released Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age.
This report highlights the sea change underway in the multi-billion dollar U.S.
K-12 instructional materials market enabled by recent technology and
intellectual property rights innovations. With a focus on the ultimate impact
on student learning, the report provides examples of lessons learned from
recent digital and open content/open educational resources (OER) initiatives by
leading states and school districts. It concludes by offering comprehensive
recommendations for government, industry, and educators to ensure that the
inevitable shift to digital instructional materials improves student
achievement and engagement and efficiently uses scarce resources.

Given existing trends and the experiences of leading states
and districts, the core recommendation of the SETDA report is that states and
districts commit to beginning the shift from print to digital instructional
materials with the next major "textbook" adoption cycle, completing
the transition within the next five years (by no later than the 2017-18 school

“In a time of tight budgets and increasing expectations,
many schools today purchase both print and digital instructional materials in a
duplicative and uncoordinated fashion, with far too little attention to quality
and value for money,” said Douglas Levin, SETDA executive director. “If the shift
to digital instructional materials is not made immediately, major funding will continue
to be directed to traditional materials that will tie the hands of students and
educators to static, inflexible content for years to come. Only if education
leaders act now, can they influence the reimagination of the K-12 textbook.”

Out of Print is a product of
collaboration among state educational technology leaders, leading technology
companies, publishers, and policy and practitioner experts committed to driving
innovation in K-12 instructional materials. The numerous examples in the report
of successful digital and open content initiatives highlight the dramatic
opportunity before us to modernize a decades old approach to textbook adoption.

“We are proud of the work we have done in Indiana to
increase technology options for schools. Increased flexibility to select
digital instructional materials and new state-level grants are spreading
high-quality, innovative initiatives across our state,” said Dr. Tony Bennett,
Indiana State Superintendent of Public Instruction. “This effort has created a
thriving 21st century learning environment for Hoosier children and is helping
to drive student success to an all time high.”

 As the report concludes, “reimagining an integral element of
the educational system within five years is a daunting task.  Yet, as this report highlights, many states
and districts have traveled partially down the path already – and our students
are ready. If we are serious about offering a college and 21st career ready
education for all students, we do not have the luxury of further delay.”

 To access the full report, visit:

Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age

SETDA is proud to release Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age at an event Monday, September 24, 2012, from 2:00-4:00pm EDT at the National Press Club in Washington, DC. Out of Print highlights the sea change underway in the multi-billion dollar U.S. K-12 instructional materials market enabled by recent technology and intellectual property rights innovations. With a focus on the ultimate impact on student learning, the report provides examples of lessons learned from recent digital and open (OER) content initiatives by leading states and school districts and offers comprehensive recommendations for government, industry, and educators to ensure that the inevitable shift to digital instructional materials improves student achievement and engagement and efficiently uses scarce resources.

Speakers will be:

  • Douglas Levin, Executive Director, SETDA,
  • Geoffrey Fletcher, Deputy Executive Director, SETDA,
  • Tiffany Hall, K-12 Literacy Coordinator, Teaching and Learning, Utah State Office of Education,
  • Lan Neugent, Assistant Superintendent for Technology, Career, and Adult Education and Chief Information Officer, Virginia Department of Education,
  • Tom Woodward, Assistant Director, Instructional Technology, Henrico County Schools, Virginia,
  • Peter Zamora, Director of Federal Relations, Council of Chief State School Officers.

To register to attend the event in person or to view the webcast, please visit

Questions about the event may be addressed to Tera Daniels, SETDA Director of Administration & Membership, at [email protected] or 410-757-3342.

Tune in on Sept. 24 for the release of “Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age”

Please join the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) for a report release and briefing (in-person & via webcast).

"Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age"

Monday, September 24, 2012, from 2:00-4:00pm ET

National Press Club, 529 14th St, NW, Washington, DC 20045
Holeman Lounge

RSVP to the in-person event:
Register for the webcast:

"Out of Print: Reimagining the Textbook in a Digital Age" highlights the sea change underway in the multi-billion dollar U.S. K-12 instructional materials market enabled by recent technology and intellectual property rights innovations. With a focus on the ultimate impact on student learning, the report provides examples of lessons learned from recent digital and open (OER) content initiatives by leading states and school districts and offers comprehensive recommendations for government, industry, and educators to ensure that the inevitable shift to digital instructional materials improves student achievement and engagement and efficiently uses scarce resources.

Speakers to include:
          • Doug Levin, State Educational Technology Directors Association
          • Geoffrey Fletcher, State Educational Technology Directors Association
          • Tiffany Hall, Utah State Office of Education
          • Lan Neugent, Virginia Department of Education
          • Tom Woodward, Henrico County Schools, Virginia
          • Peter Zamora, Council of Chief State School Officers

We hope you'll join us for this exciting event.

Decadence And Togetherness In July

When I was a teacher, July was an interesting month. I tended to travel, read and be somewhat decadent. I had done some reflection on what kinds of things worked well in the prior year and made note of that, but had not yet gone so far as to plan for the next year. As a district technology coordinator, my July was a little different in that I had started to pull together what kinds of professional development I was going to provide in August and the plan for the overall year. I also had to check on purchase orders and start to install computers and other systems I had ordered in the spring. I still had time for some decadence.

I imagine there are technology coordinators, assessment staff and curriculum coordinators across the country engaged in similar activities this July, especially thinking about professional development. This is a perfect time for them to be thinking about and planning that professional development, but this year doing it together. While the reasons seem obvious, here are just a few:

  • There is more and more digital content available for the classroom every year, but how much is tied to the CCSS and how many teachers have specific activities and lesson plans that incorporate that digital content? It is a great place for curriculum and technology folks to work together.
  • The CCSS are a hot topic for professional development, but how many folks are thinking about how to assess some of the areas that don’t lend themselves to easy assessments, such as compex problem solving? Teachers need quizzes, rubrics, exercises and ideas on how to do that thoroughly and fairly for kids. It is a great place for curriculum and assessment people to work together, show the staff that they are working together, and to do a check that everyone is using the same language in talking about these things.
  • And speaking of assessment, the RTTA coming online in the 2014-15 school year provide an opportunity for teachers to learn a little bit about what what they are and what they may look like. It would be good to discuss how comfortable they are with using technology with instruction, what technologies they feel may be helpful for them as they teach to the CCSS, and to make a connection between some of the everyday assessments they use in the classroom with the future RTTA.

In your districts or states, have staff from the three departments ever worked together? If so, let us hear about your efforts. If not, there is no time like the present – after a little decadence.

How Fast Is Your Machine?

Do you have any idea what your upload and download speeds are for your computer, or more important, the computers in your schools?  And, does anyone have a clue about broadband capability in schools across the country, on a school by school basis?  Maybe, maybe and no.  We all know how important broadband connection speed is in the classroom.  When it is slow and students are nodding off waiting for a page to load, it’s a problem to say the least.  Come 2014-15 it is even more of a concern as everyone rolls into online assessments.  Delays not only can affect student attention, they could potentially affect delivery of the online assessments.  Knowing the upload and download speeds of the computers now will help school district personnel understand where they need to be over the next few years.

That is why SETDA is providing a free Internet Broadband Speed Test Tool on the site.  I am sure you have seen it in the upper right corner of the home page.  The tool will provide real time information on broadband speed and quality and it is simple to run from any computer or device.

As for anyone having a clue as to the broadband capability in schools across the country, this tool can help.  Users in schools will be able to select their school from the NCES list of schools.  Once they run the tool, data will be collected into a publically available data set that will be updated daily and eventually displayed on a national map.  Over time, the data set and map can provide valuable information to policymakers, researchers and companies in the private sector and may assist in driving additional broadband to those areas sorely lacking.

To be clear: no personally identifiable information is collected as part of this test, and your IP address will not appear in the public data set.

Run the tool on your machine but more importantly, encourage schools to run the tool.  The more data, the more power to use the data to advocate for more broadband – something virtually all schools need.

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