By Megan Bollinger
Education Weekly wrote an article a few years back about school districts transitioning to digital-based text books and curriculum and how some of the biggest textbook publishers were meeting new expectations.
According to the article, some school districts in the U.S. have decided to completely eliminate the publisher all together, while others are working with the publisher to develop a better product for their students.
An example of a school district that circumvents the publisher cited in the article is Vail School District in Arizona.
“We are not beholden at all to the big textbook publishers,” says Superintendent Calvin Baker. “We used to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in the textbook cycle, but we don’t do that anymore.”
Instead, the school district creates its own curriculum by taking material from many different sources and all for free. It’s understandable that a school district trying to balance its budget with increasing difficulty each year would look to eliminate a big drain on its resources: textbooks. However, this process they employ should be of concern to everyone, not just those of us in the publishing industry. Without the publisher who takes on the responsibility of validating their materials, what assurances do those students and their parents have that they’re reading content that’s accurate?
Another approach documented in the article and taken by the Virginia Department of Education is to work with the publisher. When the iPad debuted and made its way into schools, head of the department, Tammy McGraw, reached out to the big textbook publishers and asked that they develop curriculum housed on the iPad. And they did. They worked directly with McGraw and Virginia students to learn what they wanted and needed in an e-textbook.
“We expect that right out of the gate they’re going to deliver something perfect,” McGraw says. “We have to do more to develop opportunities to give feedback to publishers, and we need to assume responsibilities for shaping better products.”
Publishers have been meeting the demands schools districts are placing on them for new and inventive learning tools. London-based Pearson bought up a company, SchoolNet, that provides personalized education software.
According to Luyen Chou, the chief product officer for K-12 technology at Pearson, the company’s strategy is “to create a technology platform that allows for digital content to be distributed to educators. The platform will be content-neutral so the digital curricula it will share with Pearson customers may not necessarily have been created by Pearson content specialists, and it may even be free.”
The article says Chou believes “there’s a new role for Pearson in curating and organizing electronic content and using its own experts to vouch for quality, particularly when it comes to open, or free, educational resources.”
That is the key. To survive the digital age, textbook publishers need to prove their companies value all over again. They must show educators that they can still provide quality educational material, at a cheap price, in the digital platforms their students demand.