Traditional vs. Digital Conversion

The following is adapted for Bend-La Pine Schools from the book Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement written by Dr. Mark Edwards.


Digital Conversion refers to the transformation of instruction from a paper-based world to a primarily digital world, in which every student in grades 3-12 and teacher has access to a personal computing device and the Internet anytime/anywhere.  Digital Conversion has the power to profoundly change the nature of teaching and learning by going far beyond traditional learning modalities.  It supports second-order change by enabling a fundamental shift across all aspects of daily life in our schools.  It affects instruction, pedagogy, professional development, student and teacher motivation, student—teacher roles, learning experiences, and relationships.  It creates a new vibrancy and energy that comes from the currency and connectivity among students and teachers.

Addressing the Needs of Today

Digital Conversion allows educators to level the playing field and provide every student, including at-risk learners, with anytime/anywhere access to resources and the opportunity to develop the skills they need for today’s workplace.  And the time has come.  In words of Adam Frankel, executive director of Digital Promise:

“While technological innovation has transformed other sectors of our society and economy in recent decades, our education system has been largely resistant to change.  There are a range of challenges that stifle innovation in education, from policy to political hurdles in school culture and market failures to outdated infrastructure in our nation’s classrooms.  But these are challenges that can and must be overcome if we are going to offer all our students the world-class education that’s an essential ingredient in their—and America’—success.”

In the Bend-La Pine Schools, we believe that school must address the challenges of today and align with what students need to know today.  Today’s workplace demands not only digital skills but also the ability to work collaboratively and creatively and engage in independent research—all skills that are enabled and enhanced by technology.

Digital Conversion Critical Success Factors

In 2010, a team of researchers who studied one-to-one computing implementation in almost 1,000 schools across the country found that fewer than one percent were practicing all nine “key implementation factors” identified by the study.  These findings were published in Project RED, The Technology Factor: Nine Keys to Student Achievement and Cost-Effectiveness.

The Project RED study found that one-to-one computing was most effective in schools that understood second-order change and the importance of the key implementation factors.  Project RED shows that one-to-one computing is complex and involves many factors in addition to hardware and software.  We call this move digital conversion and not a one-to-one initiative to encompass the interplay of the factors that are critical to our success, starting with a personal computing device for every teacher and student in grades 3-12 and going far beyond.

The following “Steps to Success” checklist summarizes the key factors highlighted in the Project RED study that we believe the Bend-La Pine Schools must understand and commit to in order to replicate digital conversion successfully and sustain it over time.  The checklists are provided both for initial background and planning purposes and as an ongoing reference tool to help the Bend-La Pine Schools keep the success factors front and center.  Digital conversion is not a short-term fix.  It is an ongoing process in which student improvement grows over time, supported by sustained commitment, gradual improvement in practice, and learning together as a team.

STEP #1:  Plan, Plan, and Plan Again

Comprehensive plans provide the bandwidth for organic change and the dynamics for implementation.  They serve as living blueprints that positively embrace change, as described by Thomas and Brown in A New Culture of Learning:

Embracing change means looking forward to what will come next.  It means viewing the future as a set of new possibilities rather than something that forces us to adjust.”

Planning Steps to Success:

  • Define the members of your central district planning team and your school planning teams.
  • Define your goals, utilizing the Strategic Device Initiative format, and remember that student achievement must be goal number one.
  • Take a long-term view.
  • Plan your technical infrastructure, including hardware devices, bandwidth, connectivity, deployment, security, and technical support.
  • Select pilot sites.
  • Plan your device rollout.
  • Plan for capacity building, with models for coaching and mentoring.
  • Adjust the instructional program based on digital resources.
  • Plan for budget needs.
  • Plan for facilities needs.
  • Develop a communication plan.
  • Embrace and promote the idea of change.
  • Constantly evaluate against reference points—shared vision, moral imperative, impact on student achievement, preparation for today’s workplace, instructional quality, equity and opportunity, communication, and change management.
  • Use feedback loops to adjust and change as needed.

STEP #2:  Build a Shared Vision

A shared vision is the foundation that holds together a tem, and implementing the vision together ensures a consistent direction.  In Leadership and the New Science, Margaret Wheatly writes:

“In a field view of organizations, clarity about values and vision is important, but it is only half the task.  Creating the field through the dissemination of those ideas is essential.  The dialogue must reach all corners of the organization and involve everyone.  Vision statements come off the walls and come alive in classrooms and hallways and provide a shared path for growth.”

Vision Building Steps to Success:

  • Discuss with all stakeholders why digital conversion is the right thing to do.
  • Identify the needs of at-risk and special needs students and English learners.
  • Develop your moral imperative and use it to drive the discussion.
  • Create a shared vision statement.
  • Connect the vision to goals, benchmarks, resources, and roles.
  • Evaluate all programs and activities against that vision.
  • Work to bring programs and activities into alignment with the vision.
  • Expect constant innovation, exploration, new ideas, and new opportunities.
  • Be prepared for ongoing learning and adjustment.

STEP #3:  Align Resources

Digital conversion is surprisingly affordable with budgeting strategies that focus on prioritization and repurposing rather than finding new or more monies.  Digital conversion must be the priority for instructional spending because we cannot afford a parallel program with textbooks.

Based on work from Dr. Mark Edwards in Mooresville Graded School District, North Carolina, the end result of all prioritization efforts, repurposing of resources, and cost-efficiencies that digital conversion costs approximately $1.25 per student per day ($250 annually per student).  This cost includes teacher and student hardware, software, cases, digital content, and professional development.  This does not include infrastructure costs since these are capital costs and should be aligned with capital funding sources and because much of the infrastructure is required anyway, with either computer labs or digital conversion.

So for approximately 3-4% of the daily budget, we would be able to provide all teachers and students in grades 3-12 with a portal to the world, cutting-edge creativity tools, and a reference library larger than the Library of Congress.

Resource Alignment Steps to Success:

  • Establish priorities.
  • Evaluate repurposing options, including staff positions, physical spaces, and instructional materials.
  • Repurpose textbook funds and computer lab costs to purchase devices and online content.
  • Train students to provide help desk support.
  • Redefine librarian and lab tech roles.

STEP #4:  Focus on Student Achievement

The public will support digital conversion as long as there is a return on the investment, and student achievement is how the return is determined.  We must focus all efforts on closing achievement gaps and preparing all of our students to be future ready.

Achievement Steps to Success:

  • Consistently communicate that improved academic performance is the goal of digital conversion.
  • Evaluate all programs and activities in light of this goal.
  • Define daily expectations for students, teachers, and staff.
  • Engage teacher in mapping out their daily work and how they will work together.
  • Use formative assessments to drive instructional planning.
  • Align plans and policies with student achievement goals.
  • Incorporate individual student data into daily instructional planning.
  • Use a variety of measures to evaluate progress, including graduation rates, state assessments, AP/IB/Honors participation, and student next step success.

STEP #5:  Foster Leadership

Leaders at all levels are essential to digital conversion success.  A top-down approach will not build the necessary buy-in and teamwork.  Digital conversion demands we develop a distributed leadership approach in which we recognize, develop, and utilize leaders at all levels and schools and in every aspect of the work of the district.  Nowhere is this more important than in the strong partnership that must be established between IT and Teaching and Learning to allow educational decisions to drive all IT solutions.  Please see the attached articles highlighting the building of a functional Ed Teach Team as well as the four guiding questions I propose to help IT and Teaching and Learning focus a conversation that leads to the strengthening this partnership.

Leadership Steps to Success:

  • Select teacher and department leaders based on their commitment to the vision, goals, and leadership potential.
  • Develop leaders at every school.
  • Develop leaders in every department.
  • Develop leaders in every grade level.
  • Develop leaders among administrators and staff.
  • Make sure the central office administrators vigorously embrace a service model.
  • Encourage parent and community leaders to be all in and enlist their input.

STEP #6:  Establish a Digital Infrastructure

Infrastructure Steps to Success:

  • Select pilot sites and initiate a pilot program.
  • Select and distribute student devices.
  • Plan a staged device rollout
  • Develop a financial support program for low-income students
  • Build a robust wireless infrastructure with an eye to future needs.
  • Evaluate cloud computing options.
  • Develop software evaluation criteria and select online content and tools.
  • Select and implement a learning management system.
  • Build a library of multimedia tools.
  • Develop policies for social networking and required use.
  • Plan for training, staffing, and support.

STEP #7:  Build Capacity

We embrace the concept that, as digital conversion evolves, we must grow our capacity—meaning our ability to use digital resources and work as individuals and teams to meet goals.  Every school leader must be vigilant in ensuring that individuals and teams constantly reflect on how to improve the success o every student.

Capacity Building Steps to Success:

  • Commit to a philosophy of individual and team learning for all adults.
  • Talk the long view and accept different rates of growth.
  • Develop formal growth plans for teachers and principals.
  • Encourage students and teacher to learn together.
  • Expect steady progress and constant effort.
  • Provide constant encouragement, feedback, and leadership.
  • Establish meetings to build teams at all levels.
  • Define professional development goals.

STEP #8:  Implement Data-Driven Personalized Instruction

Digital conversion allows us to progress in our ability to use personalized student information as part of our daily instruction methodology—providing teachers greater clarity and means to make adjustments, to advance or review, based on real-time data.

Data Steps to Success:

  • Transition to online instructional software that provides detailed data on every student.
  • Work toward a culture of data transparency.
  • Systematically align student data and instructional planning.
  • Assess achievement by students, subgroup, teacher, department, grade level, and school.
  • Use the data to enable accurate, personalized interventions on a daily basis.
  • Encourage a team approach among instructional staff.
  • Use data to inform resource allocation decisions.
  • Keep parents and students in the data loop.

STEP #9:  Rethink the Instructional Process

Engagement, personalization, efficiency, precision, and fun are all a part of new instructional recipe available through digital conversion.

Instructional Steps to Success:

  • Develop lesson plans that engage student with relevant, personalized, collaborative, and connected learning.
  • Evaluate new teaching strategies appropriate to a digital learning environment.
  • Develop keys to successful group work.
  • Encourage teachers to become “roaming conductors”.
  • Empower students with more choice.
  • Extend the time available for teaching and learning.
  • Provide immediate feedback via formal and informal assessments.
  • Promote responsible digital citizenship.
  • Use digital resources to support struggling students.

For more detailed information related to Bend-La Pine Schools current Digital Conversion work check out–

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