Henrico has had a long and interesting relationship with digital content. We’ve been struggling with this issue since we first went to 1:1 back in 2001. We’ve used everything from simple networked directories to full blown learning management systems (Blackboard and Angel). We’ve bought content. We’ve made content. We’ve had content submitted openly from any teacher and content only shared after careful vetting by content specialists. So we’ve tried most thing I can think of. Now the pressure is on to make a scale move to digital content and to do it well.
Use digital content to help define and reinforce best practice in the classroom.
Digital content and digital curriculum are not the same but if you are making this kind of shift it makes sense to think hard about how to use this content to shape teaching in the classroom. Duplicating a text in PDF format won’t get at any sort of change, nor will the slightly modified “rich” online textbooks that most publishers put out.
The current model in education is to pay outside vendors for “expertise” on a regular basis. This ends up causing a variety of problems. The most important being that our own teachers end up being “given fish” over and over again and then people are surprised to find that they cannot “fish” for themselves. We’ll wish we invested more in our people as funding continues to dry up.
For example, I have argued that we should not buy any sort of map software for social studies. We have Google Earth and the Internet. We should use them. We should invest that money in our teachers, giving them the training and time to find and create specific maps that align to our content in ways that matter instead of spending money on products that give us every map under the sun but don’t create embedded evangelists, increase teacher skills, or provide a pathway towards the habits of mind required to be a creator instead of a receiver.
More and more digital content is not sold as digital content but rather as part of a larger LMS/CMS package. Each LMS you take on adds overhead for the students and teachers who have to navigate between and within the various systems. If you add things like Study Island to the mix, it would be easy for teachers to be building and organizing content in three or more systems, each with its own capabilities, quirks, and isolated content.
That’s bad enough but the really unfortunate thing is that most of these systems do not have any way to get your work out. The longer you use the system and build within it, the more trapped you are1. Our initial use of BlackBoard in 2001 taught us the importance of being able to get content/work out. We spent a great deal of time and effort to create courses and build within the BlackBoard system and when it was found the system would not work for us- all of the content was lost. Needless to say, this hurt us badly in terms of teacher trust and hampered subsequent adoption of other systems.
The Box Set Model
The music industry seems fairly progressive and forward thinking compared to the way digital content vendors bundle content. I would be more than happy to pay lower overall costs (higher per item) to be able to target exactly what I want to buy. The current model is worse than the album model the recording industry clung to for so long, it’s closer to only selling box sets. I don’t want to give teachers the Tom Jones box set. I just want that one song. Forcing me to buy the box set actually dilutes what I’m trying to do while adding cruft that someone will have to sort through. The fact that paid content comes with a presumption of approval makes granular decisions about what you provide even more important.
Clarity For Us, Garbage For You
I want to know what people are using and I want to know on the item level. I have every confidence that the vendor knows this yet most data I get from these systems are absolutely worthless. It’ll be logins from the beginning of time2 or I won’t be able to see anything below a 10,000 ft view. This makes it impossible to tell if people are using specific recommended pieces of content or, conversely, if they’re using items you’d rather they didn’t. You can’t ask questions, you can’t target PD, you can’t even tell if it’s worth reordering the product.