As educators increasingly shift from print to digital instructional materials, the question of quality becomes more critical. Educators must balance cost and availability with alignment to instructional standards, adaptability and going beyond the static digital document to truly leverage the power of digital delivery.

In the print realm, there is typically a textbook review process at the school, district or state level to check for quality and alignment to instructional standards. These texts stay in place for roughly five years until the next adoption cycle comes around. The criticism of print materials, especially for textbooks, is that they are static and often out of date from the moment they are printed. As more schools have access to high-quality broadband and devices for students, the adoption of digital instructional materials that can be updated in an instant makes sense. Digital content can be purchased, free or developed locally. Some content is open, meaning it can be modified and shared based on the type of licensing associated with the content. Some content is free but cannot be modified. Regardless of the type of digital content, educators need to hold all content to the same set of quality standards.

Judging quality content

The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) defines quality instructional materials as “content-rich materials aligned to standards that are fully accessible and free from bias. They support sound pedagogy and balanced assessment to help teachers understand and interpret student performance.”

Additionally, SETDA notes that quality instructional materials must satisfy several requirements. For example, they must be aligned to state, district and building learning standards as measured by widely-accepted evaluation tools. They must also include current, relevant and accurate content that is user-friendly, fully accessible for all learners and free from bias.

“The use of digital materials has the potential to empower educators to transform teaching and learning.”

Full-course, core instructional materials are evaluated on wider criteria. They must emphasize the key areas of focus within each course, addressing the progression of learning skills and vertically articulating content with other courses to ensure coherence. Materials should support differentiated learning behaviors and include resources for students who struggle as well as opportunities for students to be challenged. Content also needs to include a balanced assessment strategy to help teachers understand and interpret student performance. And, finally, core instructional material should incorporate technology, where appropriate, that supports quality teaching and learning.

The use of digital materials has the potential to empower educators to transform teaching and learning. However, in the transition to digital, we need to be thoughtful and deliberate about the types of materials used and how the use of these materials will change how students can learn.