5 Key Questions to Ask When Choosing a Digital Curriculum

5 Key Questions to Ask When Choosing a Digital Curriculum
Contributed By

Kevin Stone

CEO of EdCaliber

5 Key Questions to Ask When Choosing a Digital Curriculum

Posted in Pro Tips | April 16, 2018

Choosing the right curriculum for your district is a daunting task—there are so many options and factors to consider. The truth is, curricula has come a long way to address the needs of modern education. Much of it now is “digital ready” and provides teachers with more flexibility in how they use it, customize it, and distribute it.

Given how digital curricula continues to evolve, the expectations from schools and districts should evolve in kind. But how do you determine whether or not a curriculum is ready to meet your educational needs? Having the right questions to ask is a good start, and I’ll cover five in this article.

While they likely won’t cover all your considerations, these questions will help you to better understand what modern curricula has to offer so you can make more informed decisions.

Can Teachers Customize Materials and Pacing?

No single curriculum is perfect “out of the box”—teachers will often need to supplement or replace resources with their own materials. A digital-ready curriculum will provide teachers with ways to modify their lessons and add materials from multiple sources, including Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, the internet, or their laptops.

Supplemental resources are typically created by the teacher, her colleagues, teachers from another district who are using the same curriculum, or OER (open education resource) providers. Some digital-ready curricula, especially OER curricula, may already have free high-quality 3rd party supplemental resources that are either pre-bundled in each lesson or that can be searched by standard or keyword, and then added.

In addition, it is almost never the case that teachers follow the publisher’s reference pacing exactly. As such, having a way to pace out the curriculum aligned to their school calendar can be helpful. Some curricular tools allow teachers to adjust the pacing, and will even auto-schedule around non-instructional days like PD days and school holidays.

Curriculum Pacing CalendarExample Pacing Calendar, Lessoneer

Pacing adjustments include extending the duration of a lesson, reordering modules, or bringing in a lesson or module from another publisher. Ideally, the teacher will receive guidance on which activities within a lesson and which entire lessons they can skip, if necessary, and the lesson dependencies. In many cases, lesson resources for the day will be easier to access from a pacing calendar.

How Easily can Lessons, Materials, and Notes be Shared?

The best ideas come from collaboration, so teachers need to be able team together. The same goes for curriculum management and customization. A diversity of perspectives and experiences adds to the pool of available ideas, meaning that teachers can use the best of what’s available for their classrooms.

If everyone is contributing new ideas and improving existing ones, a curriculum rapidly becomes a living thing, responding to the needs of student and teachers alike. This makes it important that digital curricula allow teachers and departments to share and modify lessons, so that the curriculum grows as students grow.

Sometimes it’s as simple as being able to upload a material or reference notes to your LMS or preferred professional learning tool to share it with colleagues. But some platforms streamline the process by consolidating materials and notes along with the lesson pages so they are easy to find and share in bulk.

What Level of Standards Alignment and Coverage Insight Does the Curriculum Provide?

While a high-quality curriculum will statically show when units or lessons cover a given standard, it can be difficult to see exactly when and how often standards are addressed. Modern curricular tools, however, are starting to address this challenge.

Vendors are recognizing that schools and districts need a greater level of detail for standards coverage and multiple choices for how to view the coverage. Curricular tools may enable teachers to see yearly and monthly standards coverage, even when the curriculum has been reorganized, customized, or combined with other resources.

Given the complexity of modern curricula, teachers need to be able to quickly and clearly assess any potential problem areas and make decisions on how to make changes. Standards coverage and alignment are some of the data that teachers need to be able to easily digest in order to make informed decisions.

Transparency of standards alignment and coverage allows teachers to get overatching, high-level data on what a particular curriculum covers (or does not cover), and how often. With this information, it becomes immediately clear where remedial lessons are necessary, and what standards are remaining to be addressed before a test or the end of a teaching period.

Curriculum Standards MapExample Standards Coverage Map, Lessoneer

How Does the Curriculum Support Planning, Teaching, and Learning?

Simply providing a PDF version of a curriculum isn’t conducive for a well paced, engaging learning experience. If a curriculum is not “broken out” into student-digestible pieces, teachers will have to spend time formatting and creating files to distribute to students, not to mention spend time enhancing the text with other media.

Digital curricula, however, is increasingly moving away from rigid, static lessons towards more flexible and scaffolded instructional materials. Lessons and units are often broken out as individual chunks to make it easier for students and teachers to access, assign, and share.

For example, a teacher may not want to utilize a warm-up exercise included in the publisher-built lesson by default. She’d rather use her own. If the lesson were offered as one resource, then she’d have to find a way to manually remove the warm-up. But in this case, the teacher’s curriculum tool may enable her to simply “unshare” the warm-up and use hers instead.

Having resources broken out individually can also help with the customization of pacing and flow. For example, teachers may need to explain how to use a supplemental resource they added or which problems to skip in the homework. Thus, many modern curricular tools enable teachers to create notes for each lesson for themselves and their colleagues only, as well as the ability to create separate ones for their students to see. And if those notes are able to be saved and carried over from year to year, that can be a major plus.

Whether your curriculum is broken out or not, a top concern is how students will access the materials you’re providing them. Students may access their materials and teacher notes directly from a curriculum management platform or via a learning management system (LMS).

Understanding how a curriculum management platform and your LMS will interact is crucial for determining what the teaching and learning experience will be like. After all, the LMS is most often where the learning is happening, where it’s being monitored, and where it’s being assessed. If an LMS is a core part of your instructional strategy, your curricular tools should integrate well with it and allow for materials to be pulled into digital courses via a simple workflow.

Lessoneer Curriculum App in SchoologyLessoneer App in Schoology, Get the App

Does the Curriculum Support Your Assessment Strategy?

Assessing student understanding effectively is a vital step in the learning process. And while there are different schools of thought on just how this should be done, it’s important for your digital curriculum to support your strategy.

Teachers, schools, and districts need the ability to customize tests and quizzes, whether they’re provided by a publisher or not. Many teachers, for example, want to provide two versions of a standards-aligned test to their students. Or they simply want to swap in a few problems from a question bank into a publisher-created exam.

In order to support this, some curricular tools allow tests and quizzes to be modified or piecemealed together. Questions can be sourced from the teacher, her colleagues, the curriculum publisher, or an assessment question bank provider. This way, teachers, schools, and districts have full control over the assessments they deliver to their students.

Pair that flexibility with your LMS in a close integration, and you have all you need to create and deliver tests and quizzes, assess student understanding, and work towards improving learning outcomes.

Your Curriculum Choices Have Broad Impacts

Digital curricula isn’t what it used to be. The solutions offered now go well beyond pdfs to addressing the challenges educators face when delivering content to their students, customizing it to meet their students’ needs, and carrying their improvements from year to year.  

Making an informed choice on which curriculum is right for your school or district is a challenge in and of itself. But knowing what questions to ask can help. The questions addressed in this article are really just a start, but I hope they illustrate that digital curriculum, if chosen effectively, can have a broad positive impact on many aspects of your educational strategy.

Kevin Stone is the CEO of EdCaliber, creator of Lessoneer. Check out Schoology's Lessoneer app here.


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