August 12, 2020

Access to high-quality instructional materials for all students is more important than ever, and technology plays an essential role. To help educators better plan for uncertain learning environments, EdReports requested information from publishers of standards-aligned materials about the digital design and capabilities of their instructional materials. The document is divided into two sections: Section 1 focuses on technology capabilities across different settings and audiences  (e.g., in what ways the materials support learning in hybrid settings) and Section 2 focuses on technology details including design, technical support, and accessibility.

While the information in our enhanced reports comes directly from publishers, EdReports has reviewed the information for clarity and consistency. During the course of our information gathering we noted some trends in how publishers are responding to key questions about the technology of their aligned curriculum products.  

1. Most standards-aligned materials claim to have technology that can facilitate learning in remote and hybrid environments.

EdReports Technology Document
Form fields in EdReports' technology information document.

Publishers responded with a lot of “yes” and “yes with dependencies” on key questions about whether materials could be used by students at home on their own or through a learning management system (LMS). Given the options and the digital capabilities described, there is no excuse not to use comprehensive standards-aligned materials even if districts start the year with remote learning. 

  • Several products are designed to be used digitally:  Many materials, particularly in mathematics, were designed to be used digitally and therefore have functionality that allow students—in classrooms or anywhere—to access content, work synchronously and asynchronously, and support teachers in differentiating assignments to promote college and career-readiness. For some products, digital design is an add-on which could mean additional costs and adjustments to learning infrastructures .  
  • Product design varies greatly—reflect on what matters most for your students and works for your capabilities: Several programs offer the opportunity for students to work directly in materials with teachers able to see work results, assign tasks, etc. And a few support moving between hybrid and in-person environments or allow for more limited internet bandwidth with students able to complete work while working on or offline. Explore the detailed responses from publishers closely to determine what product features align with your vision for distance learning and may improve instruction within your system.

2. Publishers’ definitions for remote learning capabilities vary

While publishers make strong claims around how their materials support remote learning, there is a significant amount of variation in what those claims mean for using materials in online classrooms. Some materials have platforms that provide an integrated experience that includes content, assessments, and supports. Others utilize the functionality of LMS systems such as Google Classroom or Clever.  

On products that have an answer of “yes with dependencies” regarding remote learning, be sure to look at the narrative answer closely. 

  • Does the product require a specific LMS to work? Check product compatibility and make sure that the program fits within your existing platform or procure a compatible platform to ensure that all features can be used.
  • Does the product require an additional purchase to work for a remote environment? When we review instructional materials for alignment, we review the core materials package. Some programs require an additional purchase or upgrade in order to get all of the technology features that are listed. Confirm what version you are buying to ensure you’re getting the high-quality content and functionality you need.
  • Does the publisher provide professional development opportunities for the product?
    If the materials require a specific LMS or an additional purchase to work for a remote environment, make sure teachers have the proper training and support to adapt and deliver through these platforms. Even if teachers have used the materials, using them remotely is an entirely different experience. 

3. Publishers utilized the “details” field to provide nuanced information

EdReports Technology Document
Example of a publisher response from the technology document. 

Publishers provided specific information that can help schools and districts differentiate the technological functionality of programs. Questions that educators may want to closely examine in light of school closures last spring include:

  • Does the technology facilitate a teacher’s ability to differentiate lessons, tasks, or other content for students? The ability to differentiate content may be important given unfinished learning, and the need to adapt the scope and sequence of a program to address critical areas such as major work of the grade in math. Publisher responses to this question can give you an idea of the guidance and flexibility within a learning management system or platform to meet student needs.
  • Are materials designed to be used digitally in an in-person environment, remote learning environment, or both? Section 2 of our technology document focuses specifically on system access—how users access the digital materials and what kind of logins/passwords are accepted/supported/required. Answers to these questions will shine some light on the kind of learning environment the materials were designed for, and the capabilities of the materials to support student, teacher, and parent/caretaker needs. 
  • How are the materials designed to be accessible for people with disabilities? Responses to these questions usually came with dependencies. For example, accessibility could be reliant on the design of your LMS or dependent on a web-based browser (i.e. Google, Firefox). Scrutinize the details to determine if “accessibility” for a product means using Google's text magnifying or language translation features rather than features that are included as part of the purchased program.
  • Is the functionality “under development”? The term “under development” is an option provided to publishers to show where new features have been added or will be added. Some have developed an entirely new online platform to accommodate a remote digital experience, while others have built additional parent supports. Ask the publisher to learn their timeline and process for rolling out new functionality that is under development before making your procurement decision.

Technology is Important, but Content Should be the Priority
When assessing the technology features of aligned materials, keep in mind that the best fit for your system's needs is more important than the quantity of features available. Ensure that your district is positioned to use the features in a selected product or that you have a plan to build capacity. 

Finally, all instructional materials regardless of format require meaningful vetting to determine if the content meets college and career-ready standards and other important local priorities. It is critical that the technological aspects of a product enhances your ability to ensure that students receive high-quality content.

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