Low Usage of Digital Tools Is a Problem. A Tenn. District Has Found a Solution

Associate Editor


The 19,000-student Wilson County School District in Lebanon, Tenn. faced a challenge: so many digital learning resources, so little usage.

That’s a problem shared by school systems across the U.S. In fact, one analysis earlier this year found that districts are wasting millions of dollars by not using the software they buy.

So three years ago, the Wilson County School District decided to make it easier to access the learning materials they had acquired by starting a learning object repository. The initiative was seen as a way to get educators more connected with the resources that are available to them, said Kimberly Clemmons, Wilson’s instructional technology supervisor, who spoke about the ongoing project on a panel at ISTE 2019 this week.

Master teachers were given time off from their teaching duties to tag content to show how it would be used in the classroom. The first two subject areas they tackled were social studies and science, which aligned with the annual adoption cycle in Tennessee. In 2019-20, English/language arts will be added, Clemmons said.

The end result? A way to maximize instruction with many of the digital resources the district has available to it, and a welcome boost in usage, said Clemmons. “We’re more in control of how the content s being presented in the classroom,” she said. “Teachers now have a more focused approach.”

By looking at reports on usage, Clemmons said, “we were able to see more teachers were coming organically” to Thrivist, the platform that Wilson used to make publisher-created, open educational resources, and curated content accessible in the classroom.

Previously, those teachers had been using Google Classroom to locate materials. “We contacted them and asked what made them want to move.” Their answer: “Just having what we need in one place,” she said.

It helped that master teachers have demonstrated, in professional learning communities, how and why to use the learning materials, Clemmons said.

“This has helped streamline our adoption process,” she said.

With school systems accessing more than 7,000 ed-tech products in the 2018-19 school year, using an average of 703 different digital tools each month, finding the right piece of content from the best instructional resource can be a challenge.

“If you really want to have a repository that is effective in a school district, you have to tag the items and have each teacher be able to find the item again,” said Todd Svec, vice president of K-12 solutions at Thrivist.

Saved and Searchable Content

Svec showed how educators can select a piece of content from any source, give it a description, add an “I Can” statement about what’s possible with that learning object, pick a grade level, and make other designations in other fields to categorize it. Once it is saved, the content is searchable.

Tagging the content with this data makes it “reusable, researchable, and re-findable,” he said.

Clemmons said her district relied on the modular components of purchased products, such as Discovery Education’s materials for science. Those components were ingested into the school’s platform with metadata already assigned to them.

“Once a textbook is ingested into Thrivist, we’re able to break up the material to fit within our scope and sequence,” Clemmons said. “We’re able to where we have our baseline course, by syllabus and units.” Supplemental and teacher-made resources were added in as teachers saw fit.

“We needed a way to be able to focus and have some type of standardization across our district,” she said.

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3 thoughts on “Low Usage of Digital Tools Is a Problem. A Tenn. District Has Found a Solution

  1. It seems to me that Teacher Librarians (school librarians who are required to have a teaching credential, whoch is the case in many states) can also be quite useful in this regard!

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