Richland School District looks to digital materials

By Ty Beaver, Tri-City HeraldJune 29, 2013 

Lori McCord says Richland schools need to be prepared for 21st-century learners.

That means fewer traditional textbooks, more tablet computers, and online resources such as articles, videos and lectures and other up-to-date information.

"There's a lot of possibilities, we're just on the front end," said McCord, the Richland School District's director of teaching and learning.

McCord told the school board last week that the district gradually is moving forward with using digital materials, called open educational resources.

District staff are reviewing potential textbooks as part of state committees, and a class at River's Edge High School will use them for a course this fall.

"A textbook is as current as the year it was published," River's Edge Principal Dan Chubb said during the meeting.

District officials said there is some apprehension about the new digital format and there still are questions to be answered. Board members said they were happy with the district's progress and look forward to seeing where it goes.

"Let's get our feet wet," said acting Chairwoman Heather Cleary.

Open educational resources can include textbooks, but also articles, videos and other media -- available free of charge and frequently updated. They can be printed and handed to students or downloaded to tablet computers.

Some schools in Richland and elsewhere already are using tablet computers and online resources to supplement classroom instruction. But open educational resources are seen as the future of primary teaching materials, replacing the textbooks used in most classrooms.

McCord said the resources still are fairly new. Districts statewide are looking at the role they'll have in classrooms as state officials evaluate and identify what they think are the best. That's why Richland needs to be on the ball, she added.

"We're taking it slow but we're also trying to stay on top of it," she said.

A Richland High School language arts teacher is working on a state committee identifying textbooks available online that would fit with the new Common Core State Standards going into effect in the coming years, McCord said. Other district staff have attended conferences on the issue and come back excited to try and use them in the classroom.

Chubb said there will be a regular textbook for the Street Law class -- focused on real world applications of government -- taught at River's Edge this fall, but teachers also will pilot some materials available online.

He had a lot of questions about the idea when it was first presented to him, he said. Now he sees a lot of benefits, from ease of access to more current information.

"If anything, we're raising standards," Chubb said.

McCord said because the new materials are tied into a digital format, it will be necessary to look at how the district can make them readily accessible to students. There's also a sea of information and resources out there that need to be vetted for quality.

"If you google 'OER,' you're just overwhelmed," McCord told the Herald.

Board members see a lot of positives from the developments, they said. There's a possibility of savings to the district on buying classroom materials and also better student engagement.

Richland isn't the only place where digital resources are showing up in the classroom. Tri-Cities Prep in Pasco began requiring incoming freshmen to purchase tablet computers to access e-textbooks and other material in the last school year.

In other business last week, the district is under some pressure to make some design decisions about the elementary schools it will build with a $98 million bond.

Kevin Knodel, executive director of capital projects, said he needs to know in the coming weeks whether the board wants the schools designed around a single-story or two-story format. If a decision is further delayed, it could start to affect building timelines.

The board is expected to revisit the issue at its board meeting on July 23.

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