Frank Portanova: Digitizing Learning

With the dawn of the 2013-2014 school year, Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains became the first school in the nation (yes, you read that right) to roll out a fully digital textbook library for its students. We spoke to the man behind this digital milestone.

Why did you decide to switch to a digital library?

It became quite obvious with each new school year that our students were digital natives, and that technology was the future of education. I believed universal access to e-textbooks would provide state-of-the-art resources to help every student excel. I asked our Pearson representative at that time if there was a way to create a web platform that would house all of our titles in one library. And that was the genesis.

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How has it changed the learning environment?

Each e-text is accompanied by a lab platform, which students are required to complete. The programs offer real-time feedback. If students do not master a question, they’re immediately explained as to why, shown how to correct their error, and given additional examples and questions until the concept is mastered. Teachers can then plan their next lesson with a better understanding of who did not master the current concept: Was it a majority of the class? Or was it a handful of students? The teacher can then assign those specific students more enrichment on that particular topic. This makes the learning more differentiated in nature and provides for individual student needs.

What have been some of the effects of the switch?

The improved measurable learning outcomes are astonishing. In just one year of becoming all-digital, we cut the academic probation rate in half. It’s also reduced overall costs for the school and the students’ families. There are no more book bills of $600 or $700—they pay a flat fee of $175 [per year]. And, our digital transformation has sparked national and international visits from schools and governments in New York State, California, Tennessee, Georgia, and Massachusetts in addition to the Embassy of Malaysia and a representative from Germany’s education department.

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