Weekly Watch: Oct. 20 – Oct. 26, 2013

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Image by bplanet from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Weekly Watch: October 20 – October 26, 2013

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Clever

By sheelamohan from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

By sheelamohan from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

As technology is incorporated into more products, the digital data behind it becomes more important and useful for content creators. In an article from this past September, Porter Anderson at Publishing Perspectives discusses how the new digital book publishing industry is all about data. In the article, CEO of Publishing Data Networks Sebastian Posth comments,

“Data analysis is a business requirement and a necessary means to deal with the digital change. The publishing industry needs to learn this lesson if it wants to survive.”

Educational publishers have taken note of data’s potential to enlighten their work because in educational publishing, data doesn’t just translate to finding out how people buy their materials; it translates to finding out how students learn. McGraw-Hill has dedicated their attention to managing and utilizing their data, shown in part with their purchase of Key Curriculum in 2012.

As digital products stream into classrooms, schools are faced with an influx of information about their students, courses and staff, and they need products and services to show them how to manage this information effectively. As new needs such as this are created in the digital educational marketplace, startups have the opportunity to dominate, which is exactly what Clever has demonstrated.
TeachThought named Clever the third top education startup of 2012. Launched in June 2012, Clever already had 2,000 school using its services by October 2012. A little over one year later, it now reaches 6,000. Clever’s Newsroom page shows how companies are noticing Clever’s benefits: Imagine Learning, DreamBox, My Big Campus, and Learning.com have all signed deals with Clever in the past four months. Pearson’s PowerSchool is also among the Clever-supported applications.
Clever aims to remedy the new digital education systems that are emerging with Student Information Systems (SIS), which hold crucial data about students. Clever markets to both schools and developers and makes a call to the latter audience to use their services to make applications that “just work“. Clever offers developers samples of their API and open-source libraries.
To schools, Clever offers three simple selling points of their service: It has a Swift and Simple SetupSaves Time and Money, and is Technology You Can Trust. Clever notes the interoperability of their system: “With Clever, student data only needs to be entered once — from there, Clever syncs ongoing changes to all Clever-enabled applications.”
Both teacher testimonials on Clever’s main page highlight the value the company’s services have brought to their school’s assessments: Chief Information Officer of Springfield Public Schools in Massachusetts Paul Foster remarks that “Clever gets my teachers into the achievement network so they can use assessments to adjust instruction.” As assessment becomes more important and thus more present in classrooms, student data becomes even richer and services like Clever’s will become even more valuable.

McGraw-Hill Education

McGraw-Hill Education moved down a spot from 2011 to be the eighth largest publisher in the world in 2012, and the second largest educational publisher behind Pearson. McGraw-Hill Education joins Pearson to dominate the K-12 textbook market. President of McGraw-Hill Education K-12 Peter Cohen notes the company’s success in a recent article about the Common Core: “[You would be] hard pressed to find a school district that doesn’t have a McGraw-Hill program of some kind.”

Despite this strong presence in the market, McGraw-Hill Education recently did some restructuring, a possible response to the 10% decrease they experienced in sales in the first nine months of 2012 due to decreased school funding. In June 2012, McGraw-Hill Education named Lloyd G. “Buzz” Waterhouse as new president and chief executive officer of the company and in March 2013, parent company McGraw-Hill sold McGraw-Hill Education to Apollo Global Management. In a letter to shareholders, Harold McGraw stressed the company’s focus on the digital future of their products by explaining that the sale “will enable the education company to continue developing digital learning systems for better outcomes for students and professionals around the world.”

It was recently reported that Apollo is already considering slimming down their purchase by selling the professional side of the business, possibly to focus exclusively on its educational work, a large task that includes both K-12 as well as higher education publishing. While this post focuses on McGraw-Hill’s K-12 efforts, the company is making noteworthy digital advancements in their higher education materials, with new products such as their excellent e-book, the adaptive and interactive SmartBook.

As the second largest educational publisher, McGraw-Hill Education has a lot of content and coverage to digitize, but they are doing so in exciting ways.  As their Digital Solutions page boasts, they have it all: Online Learning Systems, eBooks, Digital Curriculum, Adaptive Learning programs, and Hybrid models. McGraw-Hill also offers online resources–such as free webinars–for teachers.

McGraw-Hill offers more than 50 apps, many of them free. It’s important to note that many of their apps are aimed toward students, attempting to infiltrate their digital world with education. Their CINCHLearning app encourages the social digital reading Scholastic’s book fair app facilitates. Just as Scholastic’s app links to peer reviews of books, the CINCHLearning app features a highlighting tool where students can comment on the text and begin discussion threads with other students. Studying and engaging with learning material becomes more accessible for students with these apps.

McGraw-Hill Education's CINCH Learning app.

McGraw-Hill Education’s CINCH Learning app.

McGraw-Hill is offering many of the same types of products that Pearson is: apps, interactive online modules, eBook textbooks, social networks for teachers and students. But McGraw-Hill differs from Pearson in how they’re approaching these new digital products. In an Education Week article from earlier this year, Michelle Davis discusses how the Big Three educational publishers (Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) are rethinking their K-12 strategies. Davis draws distinctions between how these three big players are approaching the shift from print to digital.  In contrast to Pearson, who aims to restructure the educational landscape with a digital platform, McGraw-Hill is not focusing all of their attention on electronic products. McGraw-Hill’s Chief Digital Officer Stephen Laster explains,
“Digital is clearly the future, but we’re in this blended world, where digital and print are really what our teachers are using today,” he says. “McGraw-Hill doesn’t think you should throw out the way education has been done and start from scratch.”
This is certainly evident with McGraw-Hill’s Networks: A Social Studies Learning System. The system is designed to “meet you wherever you are today in the use of classroom technology and takes you wherever you’re going on the digital spectrum.” The promotional video below shows its features.
McGraw-Hill’s approach to digital publishing meets schools in the middle as they transition into using more technology. The company’s recent reshifting should hopefully only bode well for their digital future, even as they seek to maintain their print past.

Weekly Watch: Oct. 13 – Oct.19, 2013

Image by bplanet from Freedigitalphotos.com
Image by bplanet from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Weekly Watch: October 13 – October 19, 2013

BetterLesson

Teach Thought named BetterLesson the top education startup of 2012. BetterLesson was created in 2011 by teachers as a digital space where they could connect and communicate with each other to share ideas and resources. Teach Thought notes that the company had already raised more than $1.6 million by the end of 2012 with more than 250 teachers signing up each day.

BetterLesson’s altruistic efforts to help teachers and improve the system is evident in the testimonials of its team. Founder and CEO Alex Grodd writes that he started Better Lesson to “address the challenges he faced in the classroom”; Director of Product Development Yevy Spivak hopes that his work “will help more kids realize the value of education”; even Director of Engineering Grejdi Gjura aims to “change the world one line of code at a time”.

BetterLesson is using technology not to just enhance instructional material, as we’ve seen with Pearson and Scholastic, but to enhance instruction itself. The website’s main page summarizes the services it offers teachers:

Better Lesson offers teachers a collaborative online community of resources and knowledge.

Better Lesson offers teachers a collaborative online community of resources and knowledge.

Since its inception, BetterLesson has already evolved from a site for teachers to share lessons to a more concentrated effort to improve the teaching system. BetterLesson recently partnered with the National Education Association (NEA) to develop a master teacher program, which selects educators who demonstrate exceptional and innovative teaching. The program collects their lessons and methods in order to share these best practices with teachers across the nation. Cofounder and VP of Operations Erin Osbourne explains,

“What we’re trying to do is frame a living breathing body of knowledge around effective teaching. We feel that’s been missing. When they get feedback that they’re not doing a great job — often they’re just told to read an article or go watch a video or take a webinar. We’re trying to give teachers access to the full richness of their instruction.”

NEA has dedicated $3.9 million to the program; these funds come in addition to the $3.5 million the start-up received from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in late 2012 to develop a master teacher program that focuses on the new Common Core standards in 6-12 mathematics.

BettLesson’s efforts to share information among teachers so they can learn from one another is indicative of a recent push in schools for more group work and accountability. Teachers are encouraged to move away from operating as individuals and working toward becoming groups. For the past 10 years, for example, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) has been working to create Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) where educators work “collaboratively in ongoing processes of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve”.

When discussing innovative digital communication tools with The Wall Street Journal, Chief Executive of NewSchools Venture Fund Ted Mitchell notes BetterLesson’s use of videos and other tools to help educators “crowdsource” their teaching methods. This crowd comprises teachers across the nation and in creating this digital space for them to collaborative with each other, it encourages schools, districts, and even states to move away from operating on their own in an effort to create  standardized, nationalized teaching practices, a huge push of the new Common Core standards.

Free social networking companies such as Lore and Better Lesson address the financial limitations many schools face when addressing instructional issues and incorporating technology into the classroom. But it’s these companies that demonstrate how low-budget schools can still benefit from digital publishing, even if it’s not with Scholastic’s interactive white boards.

Scholastic

Scholastic appeared twice on the Weekly Watch twice last week with their innovative digital products: Publishing Perspectives touched on their use of interactive white boards to teach English to Chinese and other international students. On the same day, Digital Book World featured a press release from Scholastic on their new Book Fair app. While the former is intriguing and shows the breadth of uses for digital educational products (as well as Scholastic’s focus of the fourth educational publishing market mentioned in this blog’s introductory post, English language learning materials), it is the latter that deserves our main attention and that offers a glimpse into the digital future of not just educational publishing, but of the entire industry.

Scholastic remained the 10th largest publisher in 2013 and leads the market in both selling and distributing children’s books. Publishers Weekly notes a shift in Scholastic’s business model after fiscal year 2011, when the company demonstrated a more concentrated focus on educational publishing by creating a Classroom and Supplemental Materials Publishing division, one previously within their Educational Technology and Services division. President of Scholastic International Shane Armstrong noted this shift in a recent discussion of the company’s educational publishing presence in China: “Scholastic isn’t just a publisher any more—we’re moving into educational solutions.”

Scholastic is not only using technology to create new roles for itself in the publishing industry, but adding value to its already established role in children’s publishing. Scholastic’s book fairs are a staple in schools across the nation. They currently have more than 40 book fairs scheduled in each of the 50 states and D.C.; North Caroline alone has 1,050. This past week, Scholastic released their new book fair app, an incredible example of what all publishers need to be doing with technology. Their app shows the future of digital reading and all that it can offer. Scholastic offers the following promotional video of the app with their press release:

Soon, we should all be able to scan titles in our local bookstores (assuming, hopefully, they will still exist) and link to podcasts, videos, peer reviews and other related information. This is the value publishers can add in the digital world: seamless access to a variety of contextual media and other content related to their books and products. Publishing has always been a content delivery system, and in the new digital age, publishers must deliver new forms of content that highlight the context of their products.

By offering students direct access to peer reviews of the books they read, Scholastic’s app encourages to engage in a digital, social reading of their books, a kind of reading that will be applicable to their generation. Growing up with Facebook and Twitter, the current and future students will be accustomed to posting their comments online with others, virtually discussing their thoughts and opinions through a computer screen. By reaching children through a medium in which they feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, teachers can make reading relevant and approachable to students. Also, by teaching children to seek peer reviews of their books online, Scholastic’s app is teaching them early how to filter through all the noise they will encounter online. We learn to identify credible sources in scholarly contexts, but the future generations will need to learn to identify credible sources online to deal with the influx of information available to them.

Scholastic’s Book Fair app also has obvious implications on how students and parents discover children’s books. In my E-Publishing course, we discussed discoverability this week and did group research on how readers find what to read. The majority of people my group surveyed found their reading material online, and publishers should take note of how seamless and rich Scholastic is making this process for children and their parents.

Also to note is Scholastic’s Storia and eReading app.  Scholastic had a tent at the National Book Fair this past September that featured e-read-alouds with their Storia eReading app. When I stopped by the tent, a small group of children were gathered on blankets and bean bags chairs in front of a large screen that was “reading” a story to them. Each page of the book appeared on screen at a time, the text in large font with pictures over certain words, while audio read the story aloud. As the audio read each word, the word was highlighted on screen so students could follow along. This is an important feature of the program that Beth Bacon at Digital Book World discussed last week.

At first, the children at the National Book Fair e-read-aloud seemed disengaged with the screen. Several were distracted by festival goers and others were talking to those around them, but as I looked closer, I noticed that many were fixated on the screen and following the story closely. They were engaged, as if they were watching a movie, but they were actually learning fundamental reading skills. In fact, Scholastic’s digital story-time can increase the effectiveness of reading instruction. In her post on the benefits of digital reading for children, Beth Bacon notes “The research demonstrates that as words light up in time with the spoken voice of a recorded announcer, children look at the text for a longer amount of time than when they listen to a caregiver reading aloud.”

As the leading children’s publisher, Scholastic has great influence over how children find what to read and how they will read in the future. Scholastic recognizes the great potential technology can bring to reading and they’ve dedicated their business efforts to be more involved in the educational content, products and services that surround reading.

Weekly Watch: Oct. 6 – Oct. 12, 2013

Image by bplanet from Freedigitalphotos.com

Image by bplanet from FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Weekly Watch: October 6 – October 12, 2013