Town hall moderator and WJLA anchor Leon Harris conversed with Englewood Schools via Skype. (Medill News Service)

WASHINGTON — Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski  on Wednesday announced the FCC’s new plan to help teachers transition to electronic versions of their textbooks during an e-town hall meeting.

Apple, Microsoft and other stakeholders collaborated on the plan, called the Digital Textbook Playbook, which lays out the pros and cons of different devices schools can use for their books, and different means of connecting to broadband.

Neither federal grants nor other means of funding for the textbook transition were discussed. Curtis McNeill, an 11th grade student at McKinley Technology High School in Washington, asked Duncan when he could expect his textbooks to go digital. While the secretary did not nail down a timeframe for the digital transition, Genachowski said the FCC aims for five years.

Using Skype, the officials connected with tech-savvy schools from Texas to Ohio to discuss best practices for digital learning and how technology can individualize learning pace, equalize access to information and better engage students.

The town hall was the main event of the first Digital Learning Day, which was sponsored by the Alliance for Excellent Education and aimed to focus national attention on the power of technology to speed up education reform.

“It’s time to stop asking students to ‘power down’ when they go to school,” said former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, president of the alliance, “and instead to…use their interest in technology as a new way to learn.”

Of course it is not all about the textbooks. Digital learning encompasses any effective application of technology to teach, and teachers at Englewood High School in Colorado said the school is mastering student engagement with a wide variety of cool tools. The school opened a science, technology, engineering, and mathematics lab last august, and it includes everything from flight simulators with real aircraft controls to studio-quality music-editing software.

Sean Duffy, a teacher at Englewood, said via Skype, “We [Englewood teachers] are putting tools in their hands that they want to use. They realize that it matters, that this is the stuff they’re going to need to move beyond high school.”

Officials said nearly 18,000 teachers and 2 million students in 39 states participated in Digital Learning Day activities about using technology to accelerate their progress. But Wise closed the town hall downplaying its stand-alone power.

“Technology can truly transform learning, but it can only do so when it’s driven by all of us [teachers, administrators, and students],” he said.