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Ed. Dept., FCC Unveil 'Digital Textbook Playbook'

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Chairman Julius Genachowski were on hand to unveil the new "Digital Textbook Playbook," a resource designed by the Digital Textbook Collaborative to help guide educators in their transition to electronic resources, as the pair headlined a national online town hall meeting for the inaugural Digital Learning Day.

Genachowski also challenged states and educational content suppliers to ensure that all students nationwide have access to digital educational resources within five years, and he announced he will be convening the chiefs of major digital education companies in March to create a plan to meet such a challenge.

"Our country has proved over and over again that we can do anything," Genachowski said. "We'll use every lever we can."

The announcement headlined a 90-minute town hall session that also included Skype visits to schools around the country in various stages of digital transformations, a video presentation with Khan Academy founder Sal Kahn, and an interview with National Online Teacher of the Year Kristin Kipp.

The Playbook is organized into four sections that roughly follow the chronological chain of issues schools must address when making a transition from primarily print to mostly digital resources: switching content to digital formats; establishing Internet connectivity throughout the school; establishing Internet connectivity throughout the community the school serves; and tailoring content to meet the capabilities of the particular devices owned or used by students.

The Digital Textbook Collaborative, a group convened by the U.S. Department of Education and the FCC, includes members from more than two-dozen companies and organizations, including Apple Inc., Microsoft, the "Big Three" of textbook publishing, and Sprint and Verizon. (Apple and the Big Three—Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson—have also teamed up in Apple's new digital textbook venture announced on January 19.)

In all, 39 states and the District of Columbia observed Digital Learning Day, organized by the Alliance for Excellent Education and championed by its president and former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise. While Wise's group is also a co-leader of the Digital Learning Now initiative, he said the day's focus was more on teachers' instruction, as opposed to educational policy.

"One of the messages for Digital Learning Day is this is about the teacher as much as it is about the technology," Wise said in an interview. "It's bringing teachers in and making people understand that."

While Wise conceded that neither the National Education Association nor the American Federation of Teachers, the nation's two largest teachers' unions, had signed on as official partners of the day, AFT President Randi Weingarten did join a panel discussion about how technology would be a key tool in an AFT-led initiative to revitalize the schools and communities of McDowell County, W.Va.

The NEA, meanwhile, has recently issued a policy brief expressing support for the practice of blended learning, which combines elements of brick-and-mortar and online instruction.

Some highlights from the states observing Digital Learning Day, according to the day's website:
• Alabama kicked off its own Digital Learning Month, an initiative from the state department of education that will aim to share digital success stories from within the state;
• California students showed off some of their digital writing at an event held by the California Writing Project that was described as fusion of a science fair, poster session, and gallery walk; and
• Indiana's department of education kicked off its Web 2.0 Challenge, in which it will use its blog to highlight a new digital educational resource every day for all 29 days in February, as well as tips and tricks for using each featured resource.

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