Just how do schools go about implementing a digital textbook strategy?

Matt Britland former Director of Digital Learning, The Lady Eleanor Holles School and now Director of IT and Digital Strategy at Alleyns School explains his journey.
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During 2016 The Lady Eleanor Holles School decided to embark on a one-to-one iPad policy. At the same time, the digital team at the school started investigating the potential to deploy digital textbooks on the devices. We looked at the offerings from the various textbook publishers as well as solutions from some of the book distributors before we identified that Classoos offered us the optimal solution to our needs.

What made you look at implementing digital books?

We wanted our iPads to be used across the curriculum by all students and teachers. We also wanted to cut down on paper and the heavy books that the kids were having to carry around with them. We wanted to always have the most up to date books. We needed to have something that students and teachers could add to and teachers could make notes highlighting pages as well as being able to add resources from elsewhere. The key reason really was we wanted students to be able to use more digital resources especially since we had a one to one iPad program.

Had you been thinking about this for a long time?

Yes absolutely. We had been thinking about digital books before we even had the iPad program and one of the key reasons behind iPads was so that we could use more digital books. It took us a while to find Classoos. We looked at a number of different platforms and none of them really fitted the bill particularly well. Then when Classoos came along it felt like the best fit for the school as a whole for the students and for teachers.

Did you involve parents and pupils in the decision to make this change to digital textbooks?

Only insofar as that when we did our first presentation to the kids and the parents one of the key things that we communicated to them was that we were going to use more digital books.

Did you have resistance to this change and how did you deal with it?

There was no resistance as such.  We had some teachers who came to look at the digital books on Classoos and we got their feedback. I think it was kind of universal among the teachers that we talked to that digital books were a good idea and some departments were already dipping into the books through other platforms like the Hodder platform for instance. The students have overall been very embracing of it. The younger years perhaps more so than the old year groups but the older students were used to having paper books; That's what they've had throughout their education, even then there was nothing negative-they were happy to embrace it!  Some of them wanted to have both digital and paper books.

What did you do to prepare for the transition from paper to digital?

Not a lot of preparation was needed to be honest with you. The departments had already been using the paper books so the digital books were a bonus on top of that. In terms of preparation and talking to teachers and showing them the product showing them what it can do. We had to get a list of all the books that all the departments used, which we sent over to Classoos to see if they were available. So obviously that is reasonably time consuming. We found most of the books were available. Then it was just a matter of getting them on the platform for us.

How easy was it to switch to digital textbooks?

From my point of view, it was very easy. Classos integrates with our MIS. All the classes were populated. It was just a matter of getting Classoos to make available the books that were then distributed to the classes and their teachers. So, I would say, the switch was painless for the teachers. It was a little bit more complicated for the team with getting the list of all the books being the most complex thing. I think next would be to make it easier from now on in would be to have a library of books that are available on Classoos so that teachers can just pick and choose which books that they want.

How quickly were you up and running?

We looked at it last academic year and then got a list of all the books. We had some books. We did some testing. We had some teachers using the books in Classoos. The most time-consuming thing really is getting the list of books and getting them made available on the Classoos platform. In terms of the integration, Classoos managed the single sign-on integration with Firefly, which worked perfectly for us so I think it did take a little bit time but it wasn't a ridiculous amount of time.

What are the key benefits?

The key benefits are the students are not going to have to have to carry around as many heavy paper books. When more and more students have more and more subjects the fact that you have your standard book that you've got three classes from then on in.

You can add layers to the digital books together with links to other resources. As well as videos you can add notes.

Teachers being able to upload their own resources and being able to use all the functionality and the layers of additional information.

There are many additional benefits; it is easy to distribute books, it is easy to take books back and we distribute a lot! From a teacher’s point of view, you don't have to count how many books go out, sign them out, get them back in again. You know that all their books are there on the iPads and on your computer and on your smartphone.

There really are a lot of benefits to this which is one of the reasons why we’ve adopted digital books in the first place. Finally, students really like digital books.

And have they been met?

Yes. The only reason maybe some of them haven't been met was that we need to do more training, also the more students who have access to the digital books especially next year the more we will see the benefit of not having to carry around a load of heavy paper textbooks. It's going to take a little bit time before we've got all the books we want on Classoos. Students might still want to bring paper books with them but apart from that I think we are getting there.

What do you think the legacy of this decision to move to digital textbooks will be?

I think we're going to have happy students with lighter bags and they're not going to have to remember as much stuff to bring with them. Currently, some students actually have trolleys with their bags in which is absolutely ridiculous!

I think part of the legacy will be teachers able to customise the books for themselves and for their fellow teachers and their students; We’re not just going to have a static book that remains the same. It's going to be an ever-evolving book and this is so important because while textbooks are brilliant they're only as good as the teacher using them and with teachers able to supplement the digital books with their own resources with videos and other useful information and notes you've got a whole book full of everything a student is going to need which I think is really, really good.

An additional part of the legacy is going to be that lots of teacher resources will be made available in Classoos, hopefully saving money on photocopying and paper which is important as we spend an awful lot of money on photocopying!  I think there is a lot of needless photocopying and I think this will not only save the school money but save the teacher's time which as you know is priceless to a teacher.

What advice would you give another school thinking about making this move?

Talk to the teachers to find out if there is an appetite for digital books. Look at what the photocopying bill is; how much money could be saved by using a platform such as Classoos. Double check that the books that you want to use with your students and your teachers are available. Not all publishing companies are as forthcoming as others so it's important that you know which books are available. It's important to know what other digital platforms teachers are already using. What do they like/dislike about them? How do they compare to other platforms like Classoos?

Once you've got Classoos make sure that there is training for the staff so they can really utilise the full functionality.

Ideally, speak to the students. It doesn't have to be really formalised although that helps. Just talking to the students in your class, what do they want? what do they prefer? Do they want to use digital books? Remember that we are in a transition, people have been using paper textbooks for years and years and sometimes they can be very stuck in their ways and say well we've been using paper textbooks for all this time; This is the only way; I don't see why we should have digital textbooks etc. That might not be the case but selling why digital textbooks are a good idea to teachers and students, looking at all the benefits.

It's just planning. It’s making sure that you can get a single sign-on to and via your current digital platforms; to make sure that you have integration with your MIS. Making sure someone on the team is there to be able to manage this transition and work with whoever is running this particular project and keeping in touch with Classoos.

The team at Classoos have been brilliant in terms of communication and I think just having that constant conversation is important.

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