Instructional Digital Conversion
The Success of Digital Conversion

Digital conversion refers to the infusion of technology – specifically, personal computing devices – into classroom instruction.

In 2007, the Mooresville Graded School District (MGSD), which serves approximately 5,600 students in eight schools and centers dispersed throughout the North Carolina county each year, embarked upon its first year of digital conversion. In its first year, MGSD distributed computing devices to its teachers; in successive years, the school district distributed laptops to its students enrolled in Grades 4-12 and equipped classrooms for students in Grades K-3 with interactive whiteboards. In 2012, comparisons among data collected each school year during the digital conversion reported unforeseen success:

  • District achievement rose from 73 percent in 2007-2008 to 89 percent in 2011-2012.
  • Attendance increased from 94 percent in 2006-2007 to 97 percent in 2011-2012.
  • Advanced Placement (AP) enrollment multiplied from 150 exams in 2007 to nearly 350 exams in 2011.
  • Four-year cohort graduation rate grew from 77 percent in 2007 to 90 percent in 2012.
  • Scholarship offers to graduating seniors nearly-tripled from $935,370 in 2006 to $2,685,583 in 2012.

Such success, surprisingly, came at comparatively little expense. Spending $7,463 per student each year, MGSD ranked 110th of 115 school districts in its state in terms of funding per pupil. Additionally, through digital conversion, the school system reaped other savings:

  • Repurposing resources – Increased enrollment called for additional elementary schools and/or classrooms, but the transformation of 14 computer labs into instructional classrooms saved $3.5 million or approximately $250,000 per classroom.
  • Cost avoidance – A 1,500-student high school spent approximately $100,000 on paper and copy machine use, but the transition from hardcopy to online material reduced paper and copy costs dramatically.
  • Revenue enhancements – Remedial action due to end-of-course failure cost $1,300 per student, but early intervention credited to daily data collection decreased the dropout rate and increased earning power, ultimately leading to higher tax revenues.

To execute the digital conversion, MGSD aligned with Project RED: Revolutionizing EDucation. An organization founded by The Greaves Group, The Hayes Connection and One-to-One Institute, Project RED issued a survey to 1,000 school-based, technological programs nationwide. The survey revealed three insights:

  • "Properly-implemented educational technology can substantially improve student achievement"
  • "Properly-implemented educational technology can be revenue-positive at all levels – national, state and local"
  • "Continuous access to a computing device for every student leads to increased academic achievement and financial benefits, especially when technology is properly implemented"

These insights, in turn, served as the impetus behind the Project RED initiative to reinvent the current, but outdated, model of education.
Utilizing a template of research, implementation and results, MGSD and Project RED then implemented the ubiquitous technology through second-order change. In contrast to first-order change, which extends existing practices with minor adjustments, second-order change replaces existing, antiquated practices with new, innovative practices. While implementation through second-order change required learning and skill-training by all members involved, digital conversion was MGSD's way forward to becoming a leader in its state for academic achievement.

Data from Every Child, Every Day: A Digital Conversion Model for Student Achievement by Mark A. Edwards, Superintendent, Mooresville Graded School District, North Carolina, and Revolutionizing Education through Technology: The Project RED Roadmap for Transformation by Thomas W. Greeves, Jeanne Hayes, Leslie Wilson, Michael Gielniak and Eric L. Peterson

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