To engage today’s students and get them to learn, information must be more than just words on a page, educators told publishers at a recent forum: Instead, students need relevant and interactive material, as well as resources and activities that can provide real-life experiences.

That was the key message at the event, which gave educators a chance to tell publishers what their needs and objectives are for 21st-century instruction. Organized by the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and held Oct. 2 at the Ritz-Carlton in Arlington, Va., the forum explored why the textbook publishing industry needs to change–and how publishers can adapt to serve the needs of a tech-savvy student population.

"Students aren’t motivated because they’re not interested in what they’re learning in school–it seems irrelevant to them," said one audience member. "They need real-world experiences to make it worthwhile."

Joe Hairston, superintendent of the Baltimore County, Md., Public Schools, said a textbook cannot be the only curriculum resource, because most books are outdated by from two to five years by the time schools can replace them.

"Students need interactive materials and supplemental materials," he said. "[Baltimore County] is currently working with publishers, such as the National Science Foundation, to provide web simulations across many subjects."

Another suggestion to publishers was to provide resources that will connect to multiple technologies.

Curricular materials "need to connect to student information systems and data-mining systems, as well as cell phones," said Tom Greaves, president of The Greaves Group LLC.

Mary Ann Wolf, executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association, expressed the same concern. She said curriculum materials should come with a full technology toolkit for every classroom.

"[Teachers] need streamlined assessments and material that corresponds to those assessments," she said–and educators with interactive whiteboards need corresponding lessons and materials for these devices, too.

Deborah Baker, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Brighton Central School District in New York, described what she considers the ideal digital content delivery system.

"Resources need to be personal, portable, and practical," Baker explained. "Students need something to mark in, take notes in, and add to. It needs to be on-the-go for busy schedules, and it can’t be on the computer all the time, [because] most districts can’t afford one-to-one solutions."

Christopher Curran, managing director for Berkery, Noyes & Co., said publishers should "build, buy, and redeploy technology platforms to beat out the competition."

"They need to act immediately on future opportunities, license effectively and often, address current students’ needs and weaknesses, and … branch into alternative learning devices," said Curran.

He went on to explain that publishers could adapt to a digital world by creating more web-based formative and summative assessments offered through a subscription-based model; creating applications for interactive whiteboards and student-response systems; organizing third-party content to align with state standards; branching into four-year, accredited, fully online university curricula; and working with companies such as Elluminate and CourseSmart to provide social platforms with educational applications and digital college textbooks.

One point that educators made sure to stress to publishers was that just because it’s digital doesn’t mean it will be a good fit for schools.

"The bottom line is that textbooks are still ahead of technology in most U.S. classrooms," said Gene Wilhoit, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "Students are demanding new learning models, and districts will follow these needs, but schools and publishers can’t just grasp at the latest idea; there needs to be structure and accountability."

Michael Ross, senior vice president of worldwide product development and general manager of education for Encyclopedia Britannica, agreed. Although materials can, and should, be created by students and educators, Ross added, there still needs to be quality control.

"We still need to value experts," he said. "There’s a difference between Pixar and YouTube; there’s a difference between an expert and an amateur. We need to look at sources behind the information. User-generated material needs to be held accountable."

Said Greaves: "Schools will still want content from trusted providers, who they know have high standards. They also know that publishers will make content compatible with future software platforms, like Vista and new Mac software."

eLearning consultant Liz Glowa said the Southern Regional Education Board’s State Virtual Schools Alliance did a study on textbooks and digital resources in virtual schools and found that digital resources aren’t always a success.

"Virtual schools said that copyright and licensing issues were the biggest drawbacks [to using] digital resources," she said. "Also, standards are critical. Digital publishers really need to rethink how to license material for online resources–for anytime, anywhere access, and because states like to share each other’s copyrighted content–and [they] need to rethink the meaning of digital ethics [owing] to the creation of open-source materials."

Not just publishing, but practice

Educators and publishers also agreed on this: To fully leverage technology’s potential to transform education, it’s not just the publishing industry that must change–instructional practices must change as well.

Michael Horn, the conference’s keynote speaker and co-author of the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns, argued that for new innovations in schools to truly make a difference, they will have to cater to individual students’ needs–and software and digital curriculum materials can help educators do this.

"Just like Apple’s model IIe–a cheaper, less functional innovation than the desktop computer–sank [Digital Equipment Corp.] in the 1980s, uncomplicated, affordable technology and software could revolutionize education," Horn said.

Curran agreed, saying that publishers need to deliver a student-centric model, one that caters to the individual.

Said Greaves: "Digital is the future, because it has the ability to teach to diverse learners. It can also cater to distance learners."

"The power of technology is to personalize, and publishing needs to keep up," summed Steve Dowling, senior vice president of corporate development for Pearson PLC and president of Pearson Inc. "It takes some hard work–time, intelligence, and money. But it can be done."

Links:

Association of American Publishers

Southern Regional Education Board’s State Virtual Schools Alliance

State Educational Technology Directors Association

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Online Learning for High School Success resource center. Preventing high school dropouts has become a key focus of education stakeholders and government officials across the country, as the skills taught in high school are imperative to students’ success. But with online credit recovery programs and virtual learning becoming more accessible to more students, many are able to regain momentum and graduate with high school diplomas. Go to: Online Learning for High School Success


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