How Digital Textbooks are Supporting the Transition to Hybrid School Models

June 30, 2020 Javier Jurado

A student accessing a digital textbook on his computer.

At this time of year, schools are typically already enjoying summer vacation. That's often the best time for me to touch base with my customers—school administrators, department heads, and IT directors. We do most of our integrations, onboarding, and training over the summer so that schools are ready to go with their materials on the first day of classes.


This year there is a new energy in the air, and many of the schools I'm talking to are jumping into tech discussions with more interest, more commitment, and more confidence than in any previous year I have been in the field.


We recently had the chance to talk with Blackbaud Solutions Engineer Anne Kellerman, who previously worked at the Boys' Latin School of Maryland for twenty years as IT director and four as the upper school head.


Anne described what we know is a common and time-consuming task for schools each summer—getting books returned, checking for damage and reuse, tracking down books not returned. She spent days of taking inventory and then sorting the budget. "Managing the budget was very challenging," Anne said, "because textbook prices don't stay the same from year to year, and teachers often wanted to select different books. It was a guessing game much of the time." 


She went on to say that digital textbooks offer more control and predictability during these uncertain times. "I think they immediately address the no-touch environment that we're all hoping to have. And just from that logistics standpoint, the book doesn't get stuck in a locker over a period of time where the student isn't allowed to come into the school building."


Schools have had an uneasy time with digital textbooks in the last several years. It has been a challenge to find something easy and integrated. Many schools end up cobbling together a solution from many sources, requiring teachers and students to manage multiple logins, sites, or software.


But for schools that are interested in flexibility for fall, including on-campus, remote, and hybrid schedules, we are seeing increased interest in a complete digital textbook solution.


Below is a shortlist for how we can help schools meet the challenges of the new year.


Making it easy is important.

Having all of your materials in one place and easily accessed is important. Schools that made a decision a few years back to be paperless and digital-first had a leg up in planning for remote teaching. What we've seen is that the learning curve for new tech and using digital textbooks has really sped up. Schools are ready for digital, and making it easy for teachers—and students—is important so that learning can take place.


Flexibility matters.

Schools that already made a commitment to digital know that they can be flexible this fall. A Florida school that I'm working with has a 1:1 iPad program and all digital materials. I know they are prepared for coming back to school in person this fall, but they are also planning for a hybrid schedule with half of the student body attending in-person on alternate days. With any scenario, their students will be able to continue learning remotely or in class with digital materials that they can access anywhere, anytime.


Digital is a decision.

We all saw how publishers made their materials available for free during the quick move to remote learning. But as part of that community, I know how few schools were able to access those free materials. This spring, it was an immediate struggle to set up online classes and provide support to train teachers and students to quickly implement a move to digital. But with a plan and a digital solution, it does not have to be such a struggle. 


It can be done quickly.

I've been working with a school in Tennessee, and their head librarian is leading the change this year to all digital materials. This commitment and forward momentum are even more important when considering reopening this fall. They will have the summer to prep their booklists and get familiar with using digital materials. Come fall, they will be ready with lesson plans, reading assignments, and quizzes—and their students will be ready, too.


It's been incredible to see how our schools are adapting and continuing to deliver remote learning to students during the closure. And I am hopeful that everything we have learned together will be helpful this fall. We can provide teachers with confidence in their tech tools and ensure that students will have easy access to their materials—in class and at home.


For the 2020-2021 school year, TextbookHub is offering one year of free service to Blackbaud K-12 schools when they choose TextbookHub ebooks and materials. Please click to learn more about this offer from TextbookHub.

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