Find it Faster: Locating, selecting and using digital media & materials

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A challenge for educators adopting and using blended or online instruction and assessment is finding and effectively integrating digital content. Using digital media and materials supports wider accessibility which is an additional benefit. While it is certainly possible to develop our own materials and media from scratch, in may be preferable to locate existing educational products and reuse or repurpose them. Locating and evaluating educational media and materials represents a challenge for many educators, given limited time and expertise for doing so.

A helpful resource for finding educational media, materials and activities is PBS Learning Media. (See the Resources section below for all links) This free website provides audio, video, documents, images, activities and other educational resources organized by subject area and grade level. All educational objects are also aligned with CCSS and NGSS, and include professional development, covering topics such as evaluating websites for elementary students, tips on evaluating internet resources, and implementing science-based media projects to enhance teaching. Video-based tutorials on all aspects of PBS Learning Media are also available. Research on previous versions of PBS professional development (Storandt, Dossin, & Larcher, 2012) showed promise for supporting educators as they integrate digital materials.

Common Sense Media provides a searchable database of media, materials, and reviews of educational products as well as professional development focused on variety of topics, including digital citizenship, teaching lessons in action and access to professional learning communities. Another useful website is Edutopia funded by the George Lucas Foundation. This free site includes tutorials, materials and media for all things related to educational technology, including evaluating iPad and Google apps for classroom use.

For those looking for free electronic textbooks, check out CK-12 which provides a variety of digital media, activities, study aids, assessments, etc. and is searchable by grade or subject area. K-12 Blueprint provides a variety of educational technology tools, including an app search feature by grade level, purpose and subject area. A variety of research studies provide evidence of the potential benefits of these educational tools when integrated into classroom or online instruction (Castek & Beach, 2013; Kim, Hannafin & Bryan, 2007; Mardis, & Everhart, 2013; Merkt, Weingand, Heier & Schwan, 2011; Penuel, et al., 2011)

Finally, for those interested in locating and using open educational resources (OER), the OER Commons has a large collection that can be searched by subject, grade level or standard – CCSS & NGSS. If you are not already taking advantage of the power and flexibility of OER products, you are missing out on some wonderful reusable learning materials. Edutopia provides a helpful guide for getting started with OER.

Littlejohn, Falconer & McGill (2008) organize learning-focused media or materials into the following categories: learning objects, learning activities and learning design. A learning object is a collection of content items, practice items, and assessment items that are combined based on a single learning objective (Wikipedia). Churchill (2007) provides the following categories for purposes of learning objects: for presentation (Churchill, 2014), practice, simulation, conceptual model, information & contextual representation.

When considering use of learning objects, my recommendations are to:

• Begin by selecting age/grade/subject area digital media and materials – online texts, eBooks, simulations, etc. – that are most appropriate for your students – i.e., reading level, etc.

• Consider decomposing complex educational ideas or concepts into discrete components that focus on a specific skill or concept

• Choose a widely accessible and available distribution media and avoid proprietary formats; i.e., UDL multiple means of representation can include audio, video, text, both linear & hypertext

Another useful tool is the UDL Scan Tool from the Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities which measures the extent to which K-12 blended or online digital materials are aligned with the basic elements of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). A research study (Smith, 2016) examining the validity of this instrument revealed understanding learner’s needs and digital products’ potential to provide accessibility were both critical for success.


– Center on Online Learning and Students with Disabilities UDL Scan Tool
– CK-12
– Common Sense Media
– Edutopia
– Edutopia OER Guide
– K-12 Blueprint
– OER Commons
– PBS Learning Media
– PBS Video Tutorials


Castek, J., & Beach, R. (2013). Using Apps to support disciplinary literacy and Science learning. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(7), 554-564.

Churchill, D. (2007). Towards a useful classification of learning objects. Educational Technology Research and Development, 55(5), 479-497.

Churchill, D. (2014). Presentation design for “conceptual model” learning objects. British Journal of Educational Technology, 45(1), 136-148. doi: 10.1111/bjet.12005

Kim, M. C., Hannafin, M. J., & Bryan, L. A. (2007). Technology-enhanced inquiry tools in science education: An emerging pedagogical framework for classroom practice. Science Education, 91, 1010–1030. Available online at:

Littlejohn, A., Falconer, I., & McGill, L. (2008). Characterising effective eLarning resources. Computers & Education, 50(3), 757-771.

Mardis, M., & Everhart, N. (2013). From paper to pixel: The promise and challenges of digital textbooks for K-12 schools. In M. Orey, et al. (Eds.), Educational Media and Technology Yearbook (Vol. 37). New York, NY: Springer.

Merkt, M., Weingand, S., Heier, A., & Schwan, S. (2011). Learning with video vs. learning with print: the role of interactive features. Learning and Instruction, 21(6), 687-704.

Penuel, W.R., Bates, L., Gallagher, L.P., Pasnik, S., Llorente, C., Townsend, E., Hupert, N., Dominguez, X., & Mieke, V. (2011). Supplementing literacy instruction with a media-rich intervention: Results of a randomized controlled trial. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 27(1), 115-127.

Smith, S. (2016). Invited in: Measuring UDL in online learning. The center on online learning and students with disabilities. Available online at:

Storandt, B.C., Dossin, L.C., & Larcher, A.P. (2012). Toward an understanding of what works in professional development for online instructors: the case of PBS TeacherLine. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(2).


Dr. Andrew Topper: Associate Professor for the Grand Valley State University College of Education and MACUL SIG online/blended learning (OBL) steering committee member.