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Roadmap to digital future for schools

SHARON — Jonathan Costa, who grew up in Sharon and now lives in Kent, understands how helpful the Internet and other technology can be for students in a rural region.Costa, 49, graduated from Sharon Center School, Housatonic Valley Regional High School and Fairfield University and is now director of School and Program Services for Education Connection, a regional education service center in Litchfield. Among other things, Education Connection provides adult and continuing education for students in Region One (classes are held at Housatonic Valley Regional High School).Education Connection covers 30 towns, mostly in Litchfield county, “basically from Danbury north to the Massachusetts border,” Costa said.He also supervises the Center for 21st Century Skills on behalf of Education Connection. One of the most important skills in the 21st century is mastery of computers. Costa feels that not only should all students learn to use the computer; he is an advocate of schools moving away from print media to digital information.He has just published a book called “Digital Learning for All, Now,” that he hopes will act as a guide to schools on how to enter the digital age. “It’s a series of practical strategies public school districts can pursue to effectively make a transition from a print-based to a digital learning model, with every student equipped with an Internet-capable device,” Costa explained in an interview with The Lakeville Journal.That doesn’t mean that schools need to keep purchasing more and more laptops and other equipment, he said.For most of the last 20 years, he said, the only practical way for school districts to pursue a strategy of moving toward electronic learning was to purchase digital devices for students. “Until recently, those devices were in the form of laptops or desktops, which were relatively expensive,” he said. “Schools were running parallel systems. They had some technology but could not afford to purchase it for every student, so they continued to use print-based systems. They bought textbooks for every student.”Costa has spent much of his career identifying strategies that school districts can use to achieve the goal of migrating from print-based to digital-based learning systems.Part of his inspiration, he said, was watching his own sons (Jonathan Jr., now a sophomore in college, and Carl, a senior in high school) in school and “seeing their ease and interest in technology, and knowing that it could be an effective tool to advance learning for students in any geographic region.”“About a year ago,” Costa said, “I started doing presentations to our local communities, and others around the state, about how these strategies could work to make digital learning a reality. The reaction I received was so overwhelmingly positive. People in education intuitively know the future of education and work is digital.” As a result, he decided to write his book, which was released this month.“School districts can now provide a digital learning environment for about the same price they are now paying for a print environment,” he said, adding that “the question now is, if you can afford to do it, why wouldn’t you? Because we are finally at a point where it is affordable.”Technology moves quickly, though, and what works now might be outdated quickly.“In technology, everything has a very short shelf life before the next new thing is out,” Costa said. “I believe this book will have a useful life of about 10 years, because by that time most every school should have made the migration from print to digital learning and will no longer need advice on how to do it.”The new book acts as a roadmap that shows schools how to acquire and pay for equipment; how to save money by using shared media such as “Bring Your Own Device” strategies; and how to align instruction, assessment, curriculum and professional development in a digital world.To learn more about the book, go online to the publisher’s website at www.corwin.com/authors/666196.

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