Mississippi District Using Digital Tools to Boost Engagement

Over the next three years, Mississippi's Vicksburg Warren School District will use Discovery Education's platform to curate digital materials for keeping students interested and connecting lessons to current events.

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One of the main concerns of K-12 educators has always been how to bolster student engagement. To stimulate children’s innate curiosity and ditch the traditional pen-and-paper approach to instruction, districts have looked to a growing ed tech market offering a plethora of new interactive multimedia content platforms.

Noting the need to keep courses interesting, the teaching-resource company Discovery Education last week announced a new three-year partnership with Mississippi’s Vicksburg Warren School District to build upon the district’s content portfolio and help teachers enhance classroom instruction with a digital learning platform.

Discovery Education spokesman Stephen Wakefield said the program will add new multimedia content that teachers can easily integrate into in-person and remote courses, mainly for grades K-6. He said the company updates the Discovery Education platform regularly with content that's pertinent to current events, which can “connect what’s going on in the classroom to the real world” and foster an early interest in science, technology, engineering and math career fields.

“For Vicksburg, our tools can support efforts to graduate all students ready for college, career and life. Our resources can play a key role in helping the district’s educators meet that goal by creating engaging learning opportunities that connect classroom instruction to potential careers,” Wakefield said of the tool, which is designed to work alongside other software such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, Schoology, Canvas and Clever.

The partnership was supported through the CVS Health Foundation and the CATCH Global Foundation, which donated $40,000 per year for two years to expand the use of the platform. Vicksburg Warren schools will then pay $40,000 for the platform during the last year of the three-year contract.

“The partnership with Discovery Education provides dynamic digital resources our teachers need to engage students and fulfill this mission [for college and career readiness], and we look forward to kicking off this important initiative,” Superintendent Chad Shealy said in a public statement.

According to district officials, Vicksburg Warren schools were already using digital learning platforms as part of a strategic plan geared toward modernizing schools and nurturing students' career interests. Despite familiarity with technology and being named one of Mississippi's first "Districts of Innovation" prior to the partnership, Vicksburg Warren was not immune to challenges with student engagement during last year's COVID-19 school closures.

“The shift to remote learning [last year], although not easy, happened quickly — within two weeks for this district," said Christi Kilroy, a spokeswoman for the schools, in an email to Government Technology. “The challenge of engaging students who are learning remotely, however, is difficult, and adding Discovery Education gave teachers the powerful tool they needed to provide relevant content and promote student learning despite the disconnect that came with the move to remote learning.”

Approximately 35 percent of the system’s students were still engaged in remote learning as of this week, according to Kilroy. She said officials intend to have all students back in schools next school year.

“Discovery Education is a tool that provides a much-needed bridge to learning when students were at home, and it's also being used in classrooms today as teachers work to engage and empower learners through in-person instruction,” Kilroy added.

Wakefield said digital resources such as those found on Discovery Education’s platform can also help school systems see a return on investment in hardware and infrastructure.

“Our digital content and resources make hardware come alive and transform devices into true learning tools,” he said.

Besides content, the partnership will provide teachers access to the Discovery Education Community, where they can network and share ideas with other teachers around the world through social media, virtual conferences and in-person events.

According to its news release, Discovery Education serves about 4.5 million teachers and 45 million students worldwide, including in Atlanta Public Schools, Corpus Christi Independent School District, Los Angeles Unified School District, the Nevada Department of Education and Topeka Public Schools, among many others.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.