Laura Varlas

Are You Ready to Go Digital?

How many kids are going to check out a whole set of encyclopedias? With digital, they do it every day, without a second thought. But digital curriculum is not just about a bigger backpack or cramming more content into a smaller container, explained education innovator Hall Davidson in his 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session, "The New Book as the Old Backpack: The Unintended Consequences of Digital."

Davidson described six distinguishing features of digital curriculum:

  1. Dynamic updates: "Barack Obama should be president in your history textbook," quipped Davidson.
  2. Extended digital tools: For example, embedded applications like calculators or 3D models should be fully functional.
  3. Content creation: Students should be able to add to and annotate text with their own text, images, and video. Davidson noted students at Roadrunner Academy at Rowland Avenue Elementary in California who made their own Khan Academy–style video tutorials at
  4. Account-based resources: Davidson explained this means all content lives in the cloud, so any kid can access it anywhere.
  5. Cross platform in a BYOD (bring-your-own-device) world: "If you have a Facebook account, do you have to go to a special Facebook computer to be able to access it?" Davidson asked. Likewise, kids should be able to access the digital curriculum from any device.
  6. Personalization: Going digital enables a subgroup of one, said Davidson. Curriculum can be adapted to higher or lower reading levels, and text can be translated to audio and into the students' preferred language. With personalization, students can move toward mastery at their own pace and with as much practice as needed. Davidson dispelled the notion that personalization is synonymous with isolation, noting that iterative practice often takes place in group learning environments.

Knowledge updates regularly, so why shouldn't school curriculum? Davidson encouraged his audience to imagine science or social studies classes that could pull in current events and research that shape these fields of study.

Davidson did not merely deliver pie-in-the-sky optimism about going digital; he also acknowledged the shift requires sustained, ongoing professional development for teachers, and many opportunities for choice and personalization, for how educators implement digital curriculum. "You can't just drop digital curriculum into a classroom and say, 'Differentiate!'"

To that end, Davidson concluded his presentation with six imperatives for using technology in the classroom:

  1. Allow yourself to feel wonder.
  2. Allow yourself to feel dumb. Davidson remarked that failure is just a first attempt at learning and that schools need to create a culture where teachers are encouraged to try new things, even if it means encountering a steep learning curve.
  3. Never hesitate to use the web for support. There's probably a YouTube tutorial that explains the technology you're trying to use in the classroom.
  4. Never hesitate to ask a kid.
  5. Model everything. If you want your school to go digital, you need to be ready to try out applications and show how they would work in the classroom.
  6. Find ways to say yes. Finally, Davidson noted that there will be hurdles to implementing a digital curriculum, but he pointed to the influence of teacher leaders and creative administrators as pioneering the inherent cultural and logistical shifts.

Where schools have shifted to digital curriculum with these principles in mind—districts like Anson and Mooresville, N.C., and Calistoga, Calif.—students have made leaps in achievement, with higher graduation rates and smaller achievement gaps, said Davidson.

Davidson believes the shift to digital is inevitable, and if done thoughtfully, the payoff in student engagement and achievement will be phenomenal.

Register today for the 70th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, March 21–23, 2015, in Houston, Texas. Learn how to create, share, and experience vibrant learning ecosystems that address global challenges and be part of the age ruled by innovation!


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