Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

Ten Points to Consider When Transforming Towards a Digital Curriculum

CJ Westerberg, March 1, 2011 12:51 PM


Editor's Note:  One of the larger challenges schools face is the transformation toward digital, which is a topic that raises as many questions and challenges as it does tremendous opportunity.  Here are ten that are worth consideration, such as what happens to our beloved  (or despised) textbooks, and how does this affect teacher training and student learning?  The following is an excerpt from Part 1 a recent Michael Gorman's blog post, 21 Century Educational Technology and Learning.  Let us know what you think and may like to add . . .            - C.J. Westerberg

"A digital curriculum allows the creation of a society
of creators, innovators, and learners.

Ten Points to Consider When Transforming Towards a Digital Curriculum 

By Michael Gorman

As we venture into the world of the digital curriculum the security of a real textbook, an item
we have all  held, grasped, and found comfort in, seems to be endangered.  It's true, the
hard copy textbook as we have always known may soon be part of the good old school
days of the past.  As I reflect on this  I wonder at what point did the textbook become such a central part of the curriculum.  I am an analog native (I think) and I remember the days of my first schooling in which the resource primarily used was the textbook!

It was one of the few resources available in a classroom that had no television, phone,
 internet connection, computer or  interactive white board.  There was an occasional Weekly Reader, an almost complete set of ten year old World Book Encyclopedias, an occasional filmstrip to make learning interesting, and  a once a month black and white 16 millimeter film that was most engaging when one could see the movie one more time shown backwards.
Most content centered around the textbook which, depending on subject, could be brand new.   or ten years old.  In fact, in many of my classes there was no doubt that the textbook was the curriculum.  I remember when I first started teaching over thirty years ago we were reluctant
to  write curriculum until we set our eyes on the newly adopted textbook.

So . . . there you have my thoughts on why the textbook has become the center of curriculum and so very difficult to cast aside. As classrooms transform so must the old friend that accompanied us throughout our schooling and much of our teaching. This is not to say that many teachers didn't venture outside the textbook for various projects, studies, readings, and adventures. I know that I often took the journey, but always realized that my old friend would
be at my side . . . just in case!  As we slowly say goodbye to this old companion there must be several ideas we contemplate on our way to the digital curriculum. As we reflect and invite this digital transformation, I am sure we will find a curriculum that is alive, relevant, rich, engaging, rigorous, and timely. We may even find a new friend that will be there for us when we need a little textbook digital style!

There is no question that we need to take those steps towards a digital curriculum, after all we live in a digital world. As we begin to put that hard copy textbook in the recycle bin, we must all develop a better understanding of  digital curriculum and what we need as educators to make it a successful reality, a reality that promotes real student learning and achievement.  Allow me to share with you my ten thoughts on going digital.

10 Points To Consider When Transforming Toward Digital Curriculum

1.   A digital curriculum requires schools to be  equipped with the necessary infrastructure and technology to deliver true digital content.  This requires adequate bandwidth, wireless broadcasting, and necessary student and teacher personal technology.  Do schools supply all of this technology or do we find ways to incorporate technology students already own?

2. A digital curriculum is much more than a textbook delivered electronically and disseminated through a Xerox job of thousands of copied PDF files.  Adopting a digital textbook, whether it be commercial or open source, can only be part of the picture.  Transforming to a digital curriculum demands utilizing a textbook as one entity, not the central piece.

3.  A digital curriculum requires that thought be given to student access not just at school but in student homes and the general community.  There must be deliberate actions set towards building bridges across the digital divide.

4.   A digital curriculum requires sustained professional development that allows teachers to learn, collaborate and plan outside of the traditional textbook box.  This includes participation
 in professional learning communities and webinars blended with ongoing professional development within the school or district.  In other words, professional development must contain the very attributes sought in the digital curriculum being implemented for students.

5.   A digital curriculum should contain a wide variety of resources and content allowing the teacher to plan engaging learning activities.  The process of writing standards should be left
at the national and state level.  After all, most local standards are copied, pasted and possibly edited from the national and state standards.  Teachers in the classroom must be given the time to plan learning and contribute activities that are part of an exciting curriculum.

6.   A digital curriculum must open up the doors to not just student consumption of content but to student production.   Activities must allow students to recreate, publish, remix, and innovate. This interactivity is the key to creating a digital curriculum that is powerful and effective.  A digital curriculum allows the creation of a society of creators, innovators, and learners.

7. A digital curriculum should open up the classroom walls and allow for collaboration between classrooms, communities, and cultures. Additionally, online learning should create classrooms that are hybrid in nature, preparing students for avenues of learning found on the web and for their future schooling. Students must learn the online skills necessary to communicate, collaborate, and learn.

8.  A digital curriculum must allow for nonlinear learning, differentiated instruction, backward/inverted teaching, as well as instructional components and ongoing assessment
that will bring productivity to the classroom. New technologies are able to infuse these attributes into a digital curriculum resulting in  student engagement, learning and achievement.

9.  A digital curriculum must allow for incorporation of innovative instruction such as STEM,
PBL, and NETS technology standards.   It is a digital curriculum that has the ability to  finally deliver the aspirations of education reformers such as Piaget and Dewey.

10.  A digital curriculum must allow students to be at the center of their education with the teacher actively facilitating and orchestrating real student learning.  Such a curriculum allows students to contribute and design outcomes. It gives students the necessary "Drive" (Daniel Pink) to become actively involved and take charge of their education.

You probably thought I forgot about our old friend, the hard copy textbook. Actually, I didn't. 
I firmly believe that a digital curriculum will still provide access to a virtual textbook that will provide  content that can provide a foundation for necessary understanding.  It will be
available in a variety of formats to be read on tablet, iPod, Droid, laptop, desktop, or possibly
a real piece of paper!   As the virtual textbook matures it will become interactive, filled with engaging media, and will be nonlinear. It will remain a good friend . . . just not the center of
the new digital curriculum!   As you continue your journey in the world of the 21st century
you just may find that the old textbook really was never quite at the center of your curriculum anyway!

Michael Gorman, is a graduate of Western Michigan University, Indiana University, and Johns Hopkins University's. He has partnered with ISTE and various educational, governmental, and business organizations and foundations. He oversees the Integrated Solutions Block, a 21st century program serving 1050 students integrating technology with core standards, at Woodside Middle School near Fort Wayne, Indiana.

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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
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