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Textbook Publishers Shift toward Digital Resources
posted by: Ruthie | February 28, 2013, 05:42 PM   

Teachers in the classroom today all remember being issued their textbooks in grade school year after year. Immediately outdated content accompanied by the occasional pencil drawing have been standard issue for generations. With the dawn of new technologies, textbook publishers are rushing to meet the needs of a new generation of students.

Since 2006, school districts have slowly been moving toward digital content. Last year, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged schools to adopt digital materials. The Federal Communications Commission and the Department of Education even released a report, Digital Textbook Playbook, which provided guidelines for schools making the shift.

While states and districts across the country are in various stages of implementation, Florida has already adapted legislation requiring half of the instructional materials budget to be spent on digital content by 2015-2016. Similarly, a district in Arizona recently moved completely to e-books.

These changes leave powerhouse textbook publishers quickly adapting their strategies. The big three – Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill Education – are each taking different approaches.

Luyen Chou, the chief product officer for K-12 technology at Pearson says their strategy is to create a technology platform allowing digital content to be distributed to interested teachers. While the content may not be originally from Pearson, the company will curate and organize e-content, using experts to assess the quality of the resources. The company is also developing a common-core basal curriculum, designed for tablets. The curriculum will feature activity-based approaches, small group work, and hundreds of manipulatives and simulations.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is currently working to break digital content into small modules. "Don't refer to our curriculum as an e-textbook," said Bethlam Forse, the executive vice president of content development and publishing operations. "That has the connotation that it's a book, but this content is going to be highly modular." The easy-to-digest content will be adaptive and is designed to accommodate a variety of learning styles.

McGraw Hill is taking a slower approach to digital learning. "Digital is clearly the future, but we're in this blended world, where digital and print are really what our teachers are using today," said Stephen Laster, the company's chief digital officer. "McGraw-Hill doesn't think you should throw out the way education has been done and start from scratch." The company is quickly integrating math-visualization software, data-analysis tolls, and data-visualization, as well as games and simulations.

While all of these publishers have been producing online content for several years, they are still learning how to best serve students and teachers. While developing apps and online content is the wave of the future, publishers must realize that educator feedback is invaluable. "Just because you have these tools that allow you to technically produce curricula doesn't mean you do a great job putting it together," said Tammy McGraw, the director of educational technology for the Virginia Department of Education. "We have to do more to develop opportunities to give feedback to publishers and we need to assume responsibilities for shaping better products."

What do you think about textbooks and the push for digital content?
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