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Keith Jacobus Viewpoint: The move from textbooks to technology is not a fad

Thirty years ago when I started teaching the newest technology available to us was the Apple IIe computer. I thought it was a marvel. We could enter our grades in a computer-based grade book, prepare word documents and use the early generations of a question bank for creating tests. I did not use the computer for presenting my lessons; in fact it would be some time before PowerPoint became a common tool.

I imagine we all have memories of when we first began hearing about and using technology in our professional and personal lives. Students today do not have similar memories. They have grown up with computers. The one technological advancement that students today have experienced is the development and growth of the Internet and the wealth of information this tool has brought to them.

As part of our strategic plan we set a goal to move away from standard textbooks when we approve and adopt new curriculum. We are focusing on digital resources to provide our students with current and rigorous content that can be modified and enhanced on a regular basis. You may have read about other districts that have moved into a digital resource system by providing their students with computer and tablet technologies rather than print materials.

I have heard a number of comments about why schools and school districts are so eager to purchase technology for the classroom rather than allot their financial resources to other educational needs. Is this focus on technology simply a fad? Are school districts jumping on the proverbial "bandwagon"?

I would like to explain why we in District 833 believe that the move toward digital resources is not a fad or the next educational bandwagon. We believe that the investment will bring gains in helping our students maintain a competitive advantage through enhancing their thinking and exposing them to resources that they will need both in college and in the world of work.

What is wrong with providing textbooks? Absolutely nothing, but we are choosing to move away from a textbook for each content area for a number of reasons. The development of a textbook takes years. By the time we purchase the book, depending on the subject, some of the information is already outdated. Our curriculum adoption cycle is seven years, so by the end of the cycle students could be using a book that contains material that is 10 to 12 years old. The textbooks we use have served us well and could continue to meet our basic needs but we hope to move further into the content to enhance the rigor and bring the most up-to-date content to our students. The comprehensive and rigorous content that is available to teachers on the Web along with the multitude of course content and resources that have become available from many colleges make the move toward digital content feasible and an important aspect of improving our curriculum and instruction. We also plan to create our own content based on our student needs.

In order to accomplish our goal we need to address three important issues. One is the infrastructure that allows our schools to access the Internet and provide digital content to our students. We are working to invest the resources into our technology infrastructure to ensure that when teachers and students need access to content, the system works. A second important issue is the ability for every student to access the content at school and when needed at home. It is important to understand that we will maintain and provide a rich print environment in our media centers and as supplements to our course content. Finally, it is important to provide our teachers with the needed training and skills to incorporate the digital content in their classrooms.

It is an exciting time in education. We know more about the brain and how we learn than ever before. We have access to information that has not been accessible until now. As we expand our digital learning across the district, we will move forward in a thoughtful way that ensures that our students will be provided the opportunities to succeed and thrive.

Keith Jacobus, Superintendent of South Washington County Schools