Educators in Columbus, Ind., began pursuing a digital curriculum in 2008, when Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. adopted the Universal Design for Learning approach to learning.
The UDL framework gives teachers the flexibility to customize learning to meet students' individual needs. Because students learn in different ways, the goal is to present information in multiple ways, engage students and allow them to express themselves.
Digital content is a natural fit for that, says William Jensen, BCSC's director of secondary education.
"We provide multiple means of engagement, so we're not married to the textbook," he explains. "There are so many digital resources that teachers can use. They can use a video clip from the Khan Academy or YouTube. They can even have students create their own videos. They have the flexibility to use any digital resource to enhance learning."
A team of BCSC teachers and department chairs worked together to build an electronic textbook for social studies, using a mix of their own instructional materials and online resources. They used a cloud-based content management tool to store their lesson plans and class materials.
"They developed it on their own and fleshed it out with articles, videos and other interactive content they found in a subscription-based educational database," explains Director of Technology Mike Jamerson.
Since then, the district has implemented Moodle and recently subscribed to a cloud-based education service that's part learning management system, part social network. Both resources serve as a central place where teachers can post digital content for students. With the new cloud-based service, students can do their homework online and instant-message with their classmates, Jamerson says.
The amount of digital content that's used depends on the individual teacher and the subjects he or she teaches. The district still uses textbooks and purchases sets of books for classroom usage in some subject areas, Jamerson says. In those cases, teachers use digital content to augment the textbooks.
About 2,000 of the district's 11,000 students have notebook computers through a one-to-one program. For the other students, BCSC provides 6,000 computers via mobile computing carts and computer labs.
District officials have begun implementing a bring-your-own-device program at the new Columbus Signature Academy – New Tech, which offers a magnet program, and at McDowell Education Center, an alternative school that serves ninth- to 12th-grade students. The district plans to eventually roll out BYOD across all schools. Students who can't afford their own devices will be issued school-owned computers, Jamerson says.
In the meantime, the district's embrace of both UDL and digital content has had a positive impact on education for all students. "It's brought in a culture of innovation and has enabled us to make some really dramatic changes," Jamerson adds.