Limitations in the Classroom

Most educators and publishers agree that technology has the potential to greatly improve a student’s classroom experience, and in my previous post, I explored the specific ways in which it can add value to learning. The conversation can’t stop at these benefits, though; before contemplating the best way to implement these new value-adds for students, we must first discuss the limitations and roadblocks of digital publishing in the classroom. Beth Bacon at Digital Book World explores some of these limitations, focusing on tablets in an article from earlier this year.

The market that K-12 educational publishing encompasses spans across the nation and includes many very different demographics. A good solution for one school or district may not be realistic or available to others for a variety of different reasons, but the main roadblocks that are slowing the shift from print-to-digital in educational materials are school budgets and funding.

Bacon touches on two other important concerns teachers have about this shift when discussing the top 3 problems with tablets in the classroom: input and making sure students are using tablets to learn, not to check Facebook or play Candy Crush. These are important issues, but I believe both offer an opportunity for publishers to improve their technology and make their products more user-friendly and applicable to the way teachers instruct and the way students learn. The second issue, monitoring use, should be a challenge to educational publishers: if they make their materials as engaging as the games, sites and apps students may get distracted with, students will have less of a reason to stray.

While these issues are important and should shape the way educational publishers are producing their digital materials, Bacon notes that a lack of funding is the biggest roadblock teachers face with technology:

“In a recent survey of more than 225 Kindergarten through grade-12 educators in the United States, 57% of responders selected ‘No budget to purchase applications/e-books’ as the biggest challenge in integrating tablets in their lessons.”

By Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Stuart Miles from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Funding will improve as educators realize the changing costs of advancing and updating education, as they optimistically noted at the 2013 Content in Context conference held this summer, but change won’t happen overnight and there will always be schools that continue to suffer with funds. Just because many schools still can’t, or may never be able to, afford the most cutting-edge technology such as tablets in their classrooms doesn’t mean technology can’t benefit these classrooms, though. Nor should publishers shy away from digitizing their materials; it means that publishers shouldn’t focus on one medium but aim to provide their content in a variety of formats that can reach the many different demographics that they need to reach. Just because a school can’t afford twenty Interactive White Boards or tablets in every classroom doesn’t mean they shouldn’t experience the benefits of technology, it means that they will experience them in different ways.

The Mooresville Graded School District in Mooresville, NC is one example of a district that has used technology to advance its educational despite facing tight budgets. In an article about the school district from American Legislator found on statebudgetsolutions.org, John Stephenson explains how the district has used technology “not in the traditional sense” of offering online courses but by enhancing many of the fundamental concepts within their educational system, such as reaching and engaging their communities. The district is even using technology to maximize their budget by allowing administrations to find new ways to save costs.

Educational publishers need to create less expensive ways to reach districts in ways similar to how Moorseville has used technology. Publishers need to explore publishing their content in different formats in order to do this: produce and market expensive e-textbooks or e-readers for the schools that can afford it, but make a majority of the resources and content within these more expensive products available online or as computer programs for the schools that can’t afford it. This is why the shift from print-to-digital in educational publishing can’t be limited or concluded to one medium over another, but should include many different formats that can reach the many audiences within this varied market. In order to address these limitations and push past the roadblocks, educational publishers need to continue to engage with and talk to school boards and teachers across their market to see what will work best for their children, their curriculum, and their budgets.

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The Added Value of Digital

Before delving into the discussions and advancements currently happening in the digital educational publishing segment, it’s important to first approach the big shift from print-to-digital from a larger perspective and to weigh both the benefits and limitations of it. This post will focus on the benefits, or the added value, that technology can offer educational publishing.

In Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, Brian O’Leary stresses the importance of thinking about context when publishers approach their content in his chapter “Context, Not Container.” O’Leary defines context as “tagged content, research, footnoted links, sources, and audio and video background, as well as title-level metadata,” but the discussion of context also needs to encompass its more traditional definition: the environment in which the content will be used.

Considering context is crucial in the discussion of educational publishing and how to best produce the materials within the segment because the context is learning, a concept with large implications and surrounding factors. Thus, the discussion of how to add value to educational materials has a much larger discussion tied to it: how to add value to learning. The push to incorporate technology in learning is not recent; schools have been using online discussion boards and Interactive Whiteboards in the classroom, but the transition to digitize their materials hasn’t come full circle yet because print textbooks are still largely the primary focus. Publishers need to think about producing educational materials in a more streamlined way—supplemental materials and tools shouldn’t come from another company or even product line than the main content, they should be offered together as one. In my introductory post, we see that’s not the case: In their analysis of the educational publishing market, Consulting Services for Education Inc. (CS4Ed) describes four main, and divided, markets within publishing, and content and instructional support are two separate markets.

When shifting to digital, education publishers need to not only look at how to enhance the products they already produce with technology, they need to approach the shift from a more top-down perspective and analyze how technology can enhance the process in which they publish materials. As technology pushes publishing, and the rest of the world, into an era of abundance and not scarcity, publishers need to use this to their advantage. Educational publishers have more potential to benefit from this abundance than publishers within other segments because most teachers have to use additional resources to supplement their content in order to educate, engage, and assess students.

By Kromkrathog from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Kromkrathog from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Adding Value to the Classroom

Mobile devices and tablets have already brought a vast world of information to the younger generation’s fingertips and it’s time teachers are able to bring a vast world of learning to their students.

In a post from this past July, Beth Bacon at Digital Book World discusses the rise of tablet use in the classroom and its impact on K-12 education. In a testament to the e-growth of the industry, Bacon cites research from the International Data Corporation that tablet shipments to schools grew 103% in the last year. She discusses 5 ways tablets will begin to change K-12 education:

  1. Personalized learning
  2. Creative interactivity
  3. Online learning
  4. Formative assessments
  5. Change

As we can see, these benefits are not merely superficial and their implications extend far beyond some of the digital bells-and-whistles that are being touted as value-add in other digital publishing segments. Instead of merely offering readers colorful images or the ability to highlight a world when they read, the added value digital publishing brings to educational materials is reshaping learning. As tablets allow for a more personalized learning, as Bacon explains, curriculum and syllabi need to be rethought. Is one generic lesson plan for a classroom of students applicable with tablets now? Possibly not. Rather than reciting lessons for a cohort of students, Bacon notes that teachers will be able to spend more time guiding and nurturing students as they learn in a way, and at a speed, with which they feel personally comfortable. Education will feel more intimate to students this way, and it will also become more efficient for teachers. Bacon notes:

“Interactive question-and-answer quizzes on individual tablets will lighten the teacher’s load of grading and assessing—freeing them up to use their time to work face-to-face with the kids who need their attention.”

The benefits Bacon outlines are not limited to tablets alone, but can be applied to all technologies and mediums being used to make the shift from print-to-digital in the classroom. These benefits are the new ways publishers can add value to the e-materials they produce. In an earlier post from February, however, Bacon plays her own opposition by raising a crucial point one can’t overlook when discussing education: budgets. While we can see that technology can greatly improve a student’s learning experience, in order to realistically determine how to best incorporate technology into educational materials, it’s also important to discuss its limitations, something my next post will explore in more detail.

Digital Education Watch: Introduction

Welcome to Digital Education Watch, a blog dedicated to researching, discussing and contemplating the current state and future of digital educational publishing. This blog focuses on K-12 education and how publishers are using technology to create more interactive and engaging learning materials for students.

By KROMKRATHOG from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By Kromkrathog from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The educational publishing segment is a rich one, both in the value it can provide to its audience as well as in monetary terms. At the end of 2012, SIIA valued the digital education market at $7.76 billion. SIIA Education Division Market and Policy Analyst Lindsay Harman notes how Consulting Services for Education Inc. (CS4Ed) analyzed the digital education market from the survey’s data:

The revenues and products were divided into four major market segments: content; instructional support; platforms and administrative tools; and a special segment that includes advanced placement, special education, and English language learner materials.

Educational publishing has a large market that includes teachers and students in all 50 states; as a result, there are many different needs and preferences to consider when publishing materials for this audience, as well as limitations. Realistically, many schools still can’t afford the technology that will be discussed on this site. The industry is also affected by the federal government and its laws and standards on state educational systems. This blog will explore some of the cultural and economic factors that come with this market and discuss how they are impacting the transition to e-publishing.

The “Big Three” leading publishers in the market are Pearson, McGraw-Hill Education and Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt, but others such as Scholastic and Macmillan Education have a big presence. With an expanding digital market, startups like Boundless and Lore have joined these larger publishers in the race to advance the classroom with technology. This blog will not only watch companies like these that are using technology to enhance their materials in novel ways, it will also track the conversations publishers and educators are having about what more can be done. Over at Digital Book World, Beth Bacon has noticed this growing conversation as well and started a column earlier this year on DBW’s site dedicated to education.

In order to stay on top of the most recent developments in this industry, this blog will gather its research primarily from credible online sources, including general news sites as well as publishing news sites, such as Digital Book World, Publishers Weekly and Publishing Perspectives; it will also explore the websites of publishers within this segment in order to discuss their products. This blog will use scholarly research to analyze the advancements seen online, including Hugh McGuire and Brian O’Leary’s Book:  A Futurist’s Manifesto, and John B. Thompson’s Books in the Digital Age: The transformation of academic and higher education publishing in Britain and the United States. When possible, I will also use my own personal and professional experiences to provide commentary on important issues and trends.

The emerging digital educational publishing industry has the potential to greatly change the way students learn and use information, which will shape the way we use information as a society in the future. Exciting advancements are already being made in the industry and the future only holds more ground to break. This blog will be watching.