Michigan’s Southfield Public Schools (SPS) recently invested $3 million in their technology infrastructure to make the conversion to digital learning. Every teacher received a brand new iPad and the district adopted a BYOD policy for students. $1.7 million went towards e-textbooks and multimedia digital learning content.
“The existential goal is to meet students where they really live and where they really learn. This is a digital generation,” says George Chapp,” director of Secondary Education, Partnerships and Virtual Learning, SPS.
The decision to move towards e-textbooks was a no-brainer. Like Chapp said, students live in the digital world and like most other organizations, K-12 schools across the world are adopting more and more online and Web-based tools. The result is that curriculum manufacturers too have moved their products online as the desire for print textbooks and papers resources dwindle.
“Five or six years ago if you bought physical textbooks, the publishers gave you the online access for free. Now it’s completely the opposite,” Chapp explains.
Of course, the district didn’t actually receive its physical textbooks for free, but the price was reduced and the emphasis was on the digital learning resources rather than the printed books. The online tools SPS invested in allow for engaging multimedia lessons that include things like videos, interactive graphs and discussion spreads.
“We are kind of ahead of the curve of other districts,” says Chapp. “Those districts will face these decisions in the next several years.”
In order to support the move to digital classroom resources, SPS knew it would need to get mobile devices into the classroom. Although the district opted to provide teachers with iPads, when it came to students it decided to go with a BYOD policy instead.
“We were trying to be good fiscal stewards of taxpayer dollars,” Chapp explains.
SPS decided if it were to provide students with devices, the legacy costs of constantly upgrading the equipment would prove to be too financially burdensome. Instead, it decided students would be allowed to bring in devices from home to access the new e-learning tools.
“One of the things we were aiming for was that these resources would be Web agnostic so they would work on any smart platform whether it be an iPad or a cellphone,” says Chapp.
If a student does not have a device at home, he or she can use the the traditional paper textbooks. However, the district is in the midst of planning how to address that issue in the future.
SPS purchased its e-textbooks through several publishers including McGraw Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. How students access the textbooks varies by provider. For example, students may need to access the resources using a Chrome browser or download them directly from the publisher’s website. The district currently has a six year subscription for all of its e-textbooks.
In addition to digital textbooks, SPS also installed about 500 Apple TV’s and ceiling-mounted projectors in its classrooms. Teachers use their iPads in conjunction with the Apple TV’s to display content via Airplay.
The district also purchased an auto editor program that helps students improve their writing. They just submit their papers and the software sends back suggestions on ways to improve the structure, context or narrative of the students’ writing. According to Chapp, students can use this program about 7 times before their paper is sent to the teacher to be graded. It’s akin to a peer editing process except its virtual and that “peer” is a computer.
Chapp stresses that the most important part of the technology upgrade isn’t the equipment itself, but what the teachers are doing with it.
“We have a number of teachers who are now engaged in flipped classrooms and leverage the technology that has been installed and adopted to change the very dynamics about how they deliver instruction,” he says.
To prepare for the conversion to digital learning, the district offered implementation training at the end of last school year. Teachers also brought home their new devices and e-learning materials to familiarize themselves with the tools over the summer. Educators were also given comprehensive professional development this year throughout the month of October.
SPS decided to implement digital learning district-wide rather than in a phased roll out, making this the largest technology deployment Chapp and district administrators have carried out in terms of scale. And they’ve done so without any major disasters.
“It’s been a great experience,” Chapp says. “There have been areas where we’ve learned a lot, but in general the long term effects will be very positive for the district.