Shifting Digital

Making the conversion for the new school year.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jason Van Heukelum

CREDIT Cabarrus County SchoolsDigital conversions don’t happen overnight. In fact, the process – from initial talks to final implementation – may take months, even years to complete. When our district decided to make the transition from print to digital content, it was important for us to develop a framework of resources that supported our established curriculum across all grade levels and subject matters. This fall, Cabarrus County Schools in North Carolina will embark on our digital journey, as we roll out the first iteration of digital content aligned to

Are we as a district able to align the content to our curriculum, vet and tag it plus make it easily accessible for teachers?

our district’s curriculum. With more than 30,000 students across 39 elementary, middle and high schools, we needed a flexible online solution that could teach our students everything they needed to know from Kindergarten to grade 12. Our district invested the time and energy in developing its curriculum, so it was imperative that we align and organize the conversion around our curriculum maps and guides to ease the transition for teachers, students and parents.

Planning for the Transition

As most districts do during the planning stage, we compared the benefits of executing our digital conversion in-house to the benefits of partnering with an education technology provider. We asked ourselves, “Is there enough free digital content available on the Internet to teach most, if not all of our K-12 curriculum?” With the answer being yes, the question soon became, “Are we as a district able to align the content to our curriculum, vet and tag it plus make it easily accessible for teachers?” This alone can be a very challenging process.

We also were after a solution that addressed our ultimate goal for the transformation: personalization. Every child should be able to access content at his or her own reading level, regardless of subject matter. Reading skills shouldn’t be a barrier to learning about science or social studies. With digital content, students can process information at their own pace, eliminating the time-constraint to learning new materials.

Preparing for Implementation

To meet our specific challenges and needs, we turned to icurio, a learning engagement solution from Knovation that combines more than 360,000 digital learning resources with instruction tools and real-time student insights. The company is also supporting our conversion by aligning its digital resources to our specific core subjects, such as science, math and English language arts.

Our district chose to focus solely on a shift to digital content rather than a full-scale conversion to 1:1 devices. Utilizing our current technology and students’ personal devices, we were able to concentrate completely on integrating educational content that supports learning and development by helping teachers enhance their lessons and giving students the confidence to learn and grow at their own pace.

In preparation for this digital transition, we asked key groups to test the online learning resources and share their experiences before our full implementation this fall. After months of researching, discussing and planning, we announced our 2014 digital conversion to parents, students and key stakeholders in early April.

Moving Forward

Starting in August, teachers will be encouraged to utilize the content aligned to their curriculum and access additional resources to meet their specific needs. We are excited about the steps Cabarrus County Schools is taking to create a personalized learning environment for our students.

By 2016, we hope to offer a blended classroom experience to all of our students, by combining quality instruction and technology to meet the individual needs of our more than 30,000 students. We believe that our digital conversion will challenge and engage students and prepare them for life in the 21st Century.

Jason Van Heukelum, deputy superintendent for Cabarrus County Schools, was previously the principal of Mount Mourne School and IB World School with the Iredell – Statesville Schools. Write to jason.vanheukelum@cabarrus.k12.nc.us or visit www.cabarrus.k12.nc.us.

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