Connecting dots for digital learning and teaching

6 Major Recommendations for K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age

Founded in the fall of 2001, the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) is the principal association serving, supporting, and representing US state and territorial educational technology leadership. SETDA works in partnership with like-minded individuals and organizations as a forum for inter-state collaboration, cooperation, and best practices. To help the transition into digital textbook, through SETDA’s report : Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age, the major recommendations for K-12 policymakers, school leaders, and publishers have been provided. The report is openly licensed under under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.


The traditional approach to developing, selecting, disseminating, and using print instructional materials in the nation’s classrooms is increasingly out of sync with the ways in which technology is reshaping the wider world and the expectations of today’s students and teachers. Moreover, in a time of increasingly tight budgets, many states and school districts continue to purchase both print and digital instructional materials in a duplicative uncoordinated fashion, with far too little attention to quality and value for money. At the same time, the open educational resources (OER) movement has opened many people’s eyes to new paradigms for addressing the age-old problem of ensuring access to quality content.

SETDA believes that more states, districts, and schools need to begin taking advantage of all of the many benefits provided through digital and open content to improve student achievement and engagement and efficiently use scarce resources. Given current trends and building upon the real world experiences of states and leading districts, SETDA offers the following recommendations for K-12 policymakers, school leaders, and publishers.

digital textbook, open education resources

Out of Print: Reimagining the K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age

Recommendation 1: Complete the Shift from Print-Centric Textbook Adoption Practices to Digital Resources within Five Years

SETDA recommends that states and districts commit to beginning the shift from print to digital instructional materials with the next major “textbook” adoption cycle, completing the transition by no later than the 2017-18 school year. If the commitment is not made immediately, major funding will go toward providing students and teachers with static, inflexible content that will be in place for 5 to 10 years, depending upon the length of the cycle. Flexible, digital instructional resources available now and coming on the market during the cycle will provide greater opportunity to personalize learning as well as save money. The current approach of uncoordinated purchasing of duplicative print and digital instructional resources is wasteful and expensive.

Recommendation 2: Develop a Vision and Roadmap for Completing the Shift

SETDA recommends that state and district leaders establish a clear vision for the use of digital and open content and clearly communicate that vision to school leaders, teachers, publishers, technology companies serving the education community, and the public at large. The vision should look beyond textbooks alone and consider flexibility, quality, and effectiveness of all materials.

Especially important is the ability to get the most value from the resources by taking advantage of the cost-effectiveness, flexibility, and sustainability of OER. Finally, comparable shifts from print to digital are taking place across a range of core K-12 functions, including student assessment, instruction, and educator professional development, affording enormous opportunity to advance school reform and improvement efforts at a larger scale through technology. At a minimum, a roadmap for implementing the vision should include the sub-recommendations below and provide direction for educators, students, parents, and the community at large.

Recommendation 2a: Eliminate Unnecessary Regulations and Enact Supportive Policies

SETDA recommends that states, districts, and publishers re-examine and revamp all processes for the creation, acquisition, and use of instructional materials to take advantage of what digital can bring to the education sector. Many current laws, policies, and processes are outdated and hinder the effective use of digital content in schools. At a minimum, definitions of textbooks and instructional materials should allow for the acquisition of digital content, and states and districts should allow maximum flexibility in the use of funds designated for instructional materials. The policies and practices that substantially narrow the materials made available for use in schools should be replaced with advisory guidance based upon clear standards. Data on effective usage should play a major role in judging the quality of instructional materials. Thus, SETDA recommends that states and districts cooperate on research and experimentation, including but not limited to efforts modeled on crowdsourcing and other methods of evaluating products and services, and broadly share those results. Such an approach would provide better metrics for measuring quality in materials, resulting in improved materials over time.

Recommendation 2b: Invest in Infrastructure and Devices to Support the Shift

SETDA recommends that states and districts pursue cost-effective collaborative purchasing of student computing devices, and increase flexibility of funding in dedicated funding streams to optimize the use of digital resources in schools and to leverage the print to digital shift in assessment, instruction, and professional development. The devices also are crucial for the use of data to track the effectiveness of the digital content in particular and student achievement overall.

The valuable implementation of digital content does not, however, need to wait for a one student to one device scenario to be fully realized. It does require a sufficient supply of bandwidth, the enabling technology of modern learning environments. Therefore, as laid out in the SETDA report, “The Broadband Imperative: Recommendations to Address K-12 Education Infrastructure Needs,” SETDA recommends that schools should have external internet connections to their internet service provider of 100 Mbps per 1,000 students and staff by 2014-15, and of 1 Gbps per 1,000 students and staff by 2017-18.

Recommendation 2c: Ensure Effective Implementation of Digital Policies

SETDA recommends that states and districts identify and disseminate effective models of implementation for how to make the shift from print to digital. Implementation of the prior recommendations are necessary but not sufficient in ensuring students are successful with these materials. Teachers need to understand how to create, find, vet, and use digital and open content. Colleges of Education need to prepare incoming teachers so this skill set is established as second nature. School districts need to develop and implement sustainable plans for sufficient technology support, maintenance, and to ensure the technology is up to date and working. These efforts need to be an integral part of other initiatives and programs throughout the district to ensure the investment in technology is maximized.

Recommendation 3: Ensure a Vibrant Marketplace for Digital and Open Content

SETDA recommends that policymakers, educators, and business leaders collaborate to create alternative, flexible models for the creation, acquisition, distribution, and use of digital content. The market has changed in other media, such as music, news, and television. It’s on the path to change for instructional materials as well. The 50-plus-year-old business model of states and districts purchasing one textbook per student per subject per grade level is out of sync in a world where people expect to mix and match materials of all kinds from various content providers, including user-generated content. Innovation is largely absent from instructional materials at a time when students are using and creating content in ways unheard of a few short years ago. Open educational resources should play a prominent role; the implementation of the Common Core State Standards provides a unique opportunity for states and districts to collaborate in the creation, acquisition, and use of instructional materials aligned with the new standards. Without new business models that allow for and encourage more granular, flexible, and up-to-date content, the inevitable shift to digital will be slowed, to the detriment of students.

Implementing these recommendations and reimagining an integral element of the educational system within five years is a daunting task. Yet, most states and districts have traveled partially down that path already, and the country’s culture and workforce have fully embraced digital content as an essential component of daily life. Using and creating digital content is not new for our students nor for many of our educators. What is necessary is recognition of the need and power of such a shift, a focus on implementing the shift efficiently and effectively, and leveraging that shift across other core K-12 functions, including student assessment, instruction, professional learning, and administrative functions. If we are serious about offering a college and 21st century career-ready education for all students, we do not have the luxury of further delay. The effort must accelerate rapidly and in a coordinated manner to jumpstart innovation in the instructional materials market, but more importantly, to ensure our students receive the best possible education.


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3 Responses »


  1. 6 Major Recommendations for K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age | Una escuela propia de la era digital |
  2. 6 Major Recommendations for K-12 Textbook in a Digital Age | Accessible Instructional Materials |
  3. You Raise Me Up, #OER | Classroom Aid

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“Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember, involve me and I will understand.” -------- Chinese Wisdom "Games are the most elevated form of investigation." -------- Albert Einstein
"I'm calling for investments in educational technology that will help create digital tutors that are as effective as personal tutors, educational software as compelling as the best video game," President Barack Obama said while touring a tech-focused Boston school (year 2011).
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