Ushering in the Digital Age: Personalization driving HISD’s
efforts to phase out textbooks

The ability to personalize the learning experience for students is a key component of HISD’s PowerUp initiative, and the district is helping teachers meet that goal with its ongoing conversion to digital learning resources.

Previously, HISD has spent its annual allotment for instructional materials on textbooks, but this spring, about a third of those funds went toward the purchase of either digital materials or resources with a digital component. These materials allow teachers to further differentiate—or tailor—their instruction to individual students.

“The proposed selection criteria for new digital content includes characteristics like being ‘platform-neutral’ and ‘device-agnostic,’ so you can use it on a Mac, a PC, or a tablet,” said Director of Academic Services Anne Boothe. “Providing software in flexible formats allows customization for all users’ needs, so if I’m legally blind, for instance, I can get text in large print, or if I need help focusing on the content, I can highlight certain passages.”

Another benefit of digital resources is that they are often updated regularly, while textbooks just grow increasingly out-of-date. “That means students are still getting access to the most current information, even at the very tail end of a contract period,” said Boothe.

All digital materials considered for purchase must also be “thin common cartridge compliant,” so that they are both compatible with and accessible though the digital PowerUp HUB HISD is using to house teacher and student learning content, as well as third-party applications, such as ABC Clio, Gradespeed, and Kurzweil.

“The goal is to eventually have most content from K through 12 delivered digitally,” said Boothe, “although many of us differ on whether it all should be. Some think our youngest students still need paper and pencils to learn how to write their letters and numbers, but others argue, ‘Kids can learn to write on an iPad.”

HISD just adopted and approved the purchase of instructional materials for K–8 math (which include a digital component), K–12 science (grades K-8 have a digital component; grades 9–12 are strictly digital), and K–8 technology applications (Excel, PowerPoint, keyboarding, etc.; all digital) for the 2014–2015 school year. This fall, the district will begin considering social studies and fine arts materials for grades K–12, and math materials for grades 9–12. These would not be purchased until the spring of 2015, and would not be used until the 2015–2016 school year.