Special Talk

“Using Deeply-Digital Curricula to Support Alpha Generation Learners:
Findings from a Three-Year Study”

By Cathie Norris, Regents Professor, University of North Texas, USA,

Elliot Soloway, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor,
University of Michigan, USA


Anne Tapp, Professor, Dept. of Teacher Education, College of Education, Saginaw Valley State University, USA


Research suggests that current curricula and pedagogy need to change to effectively support Alpha Generation children in elementary and middle school. Born after 2010, Alphas, truly the “digital-first” generation, have grown up tapping on screens, not watching TV or sitting with paper-based books. Towards addressing the learning needs of Alphas in K-5, we have been conducting a study of how deeply-digital, highly-interactive curricula plus digitally-motivated, pedagogical practices can increase their engagement and achievement. Over the past three years, 10,000+ children, from low socio-economic-status (SES), K-5 schools in Michigan, have been using deeply-digital, standards-aligned, “Roadmap” curricula developed by the University of Michigan’s Center for Digital Curricula (UM.CDC). The year-long, free to schools, curricula in English, social studies, math and science employ a social-constructivist learning framework.

Hosting those deeply-digital Roadmap lessons is the Collabrify Roadmap Platform, also developed by the UM.CDC. Device-independent and browser-based, the Platform supports a range of Alpha-aligned learning practices. For example, the Platform makes it easy for students to synchronously collaborate, e.g., a student, quarantined at home, can talk through the computer to a student in the classroom, as they work in the same document.

Deeply-digital Roadmap lessons are expressed as visual lesson plans. On a Roadmap, a learner can literally see where learning starts, where it ends, and all the learning activities along the way. Learning activities are encapsulated in nodes; click a node and the hyperlink takes the student to a learning activity. Learning activities can point to OER or they can point to licensed, commercial materials. Roadmaps are open – any URL can be included in Roadmap lesson.

Learning activities can also employ a suite of productivity tools expressly designed by UM.CDC to support Alphas. For example, as video and audio are primary media for Alphas – like text is for other generations – the productivity tools make manipulating audio, video, and drawings as easy as manipulating text. Emotionally-impaired students, who are silent in class, become hyper-engaged when video-recording themselves telling their stories using MediaWriter. As Roadmap lessons visually provide students with a start to finish learning pathway, teachers employ pedagogical moves to better support students engaging in self-regulated learning.

In the school year 2020-21, during the height of the COVID disruption, at one school where the focus was on science and K-5 students used the Platform with deeply-digital, NGSS-aligned science curricula, the Assistant Principal commented on the children exhibiting a dramatic improvement on a standardized-test in science: “… despite periods of extended school shut down and COVID-related absences … Having the learning tools and content on the Roadmap platform has been a game changer.” In an urban school, the Director of Curriculum and Instruction noted: “Our teachers and students find the Roadmap curricula engaging … We are seeing more students progressing quicker towards their growth goals than we did prior to implementing Roadmaps.”

In our presentation, then, we will describe more fully our findings and lay out our plans to continue expanding the reach of the Platform + curricula, and expanding Platform’s library of deeply-digital curricula for other subjects and other grades to reach all the Alphas!