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Visits to Largest U.S. School Districts Yield Valuable Insights for Bookshare Team

By Christine Jones, Senior Education Program Manager, Global Literacy Program, Benetech

Early in 2016, Benetech began a concerted effort to learn even more about how schools are providing services to students who experience barriers to reading printed text and how Bookshare can work more seamlessly in these diverse environments. We decided to go “under the hood” by partnering with some of the nation’s largest and most under-resourced school districts. To date, we have met with key team members at more than thirty districts and have learned a great deal about their needs and challenges, as Student at computer reading text with word highlightingwell as how Bookshare can help.

Our key takeaway from these meetings has been the need to make Bookshare even easier to implement and to provide simpler and more detailed guidance on how to use Bookshare. As a result, we have made some significant product improvements in the past year.

Teachers can now:

  • Give students their own logins* so they can easily access assigned books and read independently.
  • Assign books to students as they sign them up for Bookshare.*
  • Build Reading Lists and share them with other teachers in their organization.
  • See when students have downloaded assigned books, which is informative in parent meetings, and the Primary Contact on an account can print a student download report for administrative purposes.

Students can now:

  • Easily access and read assigned books on tablets, computers, MP3 players, Braille devices, and other assistive technology devices.

*Get detailed instructions in this Getting Started Guide and in this helpful video.

Bookshare Champions Facilitate Adoption

We also learned more about the unique challenges that large districts face and how differently these are addressed from district to district. For example, facilitating pervasive use of a valuable resource such as Bookshare is a daunting task given the sheer numbers of campuses, teachers, and students. We observed that district-level Bookshare champions are key to widespread adoption of the online library. Some districts already have effective systems in place to ensure that many teachers have easy access to Bookshare, while others are working at integrating Bookshare into their student curriculum. Recognizing how Bookshare can help both their teachers and students, other districts arranged for us to meet with and/or train their staff. As a result, we expect to see more qualified students in those districts enjoying more accessible ebooks from Bookshare in the coming months.

Albuquerque Public Schools Set the Bar High

One district that stands out is Albuquerque Public Schools (APS). Nearly 90% of the 161 schools have Logo for Albuquerque Public SchoolsBookshare accounts, which is the highest percentage of all the districts we studied this year. In addition, approximately 75% of the APS students who qualify for Bookshare are currently signed up for the service. However, as APS staff can attest, getting schools and students signed up for Bookshare is just the beginning. The district-level assistive technology (AT) team provides Bookshare training to the various campuses on an ongoing basis to ensure that students get the accessible materials they need.

We plan to visit more districts this year, and we look forward to learning even more about how we can better support teachers across the country who are working so diligently to help students with print disabilities to succeed.

Do you know of a school or school district whose students would benefit from Bookshare?

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