Selecting Digital Education Content: A Guide for North Carolina Schools and Districts


Printed resources are increasingly being replaced by online resources. Many newspapers and magazines are ceasing publication as people increasingly turn to online sources for news and information. Online educational content for both formal and informal contexts has been increasing in popularity, including such sites such as the Library of Congress, National Geographic, Khan Academy, and many others. NC Session Law 2013-12 mandates that North Carolina schools transition to the primary use of digital education resources in place of traditional textbooks. However, districts are faced with many challenges when purchasing digital content, including vetting the content quality; mapping it to their curriculum standards; ensuring that it effectively uses the interactive, multimedia potential of the technology; making sure copyrights are respected and student data is secured; and preparing teachers to make effective use of the digital resources with their students. This document provides educators with background information and recommendations to inform their selection of digital content.

For the purposes of this guide, digital content includes any material that is accessed via a digital device (computer, tablet or smartphone) and that provides curriculum materials or instructional content aligned to curriculum standards. This can include e-textbooks, intelligent tutors, online lesson plans, virtual simulations, educational games, and other learning resources. It does not include general web tools such as Google Docs, Instructure’s Canvas, and other products that provide platforms for delivering content rather than specific content aligned to standards.

Generally, digital content falls into one of three categories based upon the source:

  • Commercial: Content purchased from a vendor;
  • Open Education Resources (OER): Content freely available on the Internet;
  • Teacher-Created Materials: Content developed by teachers to use in their own classrooms and sometimes to share with other teachers.

Materials from these categories can be mixed-and-matched in practice. For example, a teacher might supplement a purchased commercial curriculum with OER content, incorporate OER into teacher-created materials, or create their own curriculum to address their students’ needs by blending materials from all three categories.

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