the dinosaurs are myopic: publishing industry clueless about the future of textbooks 04.15.2005, 3:37 PM
posted by kim white
I spent yesterday in the McGraw-Hill building listening to the textbook publishing industry's ideas about the future of the book. It was grim. The abysmal lack of creativity and insight, the singular focus on "revenue models," and the utter disregard for the needs of students and teachers, made for a dull, and sometimes disturbing, day.
The ebook offerings ranged from plain old PDFs, to web-based books, to jury-rigged versions of Microsoft office. The only panel that offered a forward-looking vision of the future and interesting ebook software to go with it was the accessibility panel, moderated by George Kerscher--Secretary General, Daisy consortium--who is blind. This panel included a demo of Dolphin Audio Publishing's EasePublisher a tool that facilitates the creation of multimedia content that unites text, audio and images. Dolphin and Elsevier were the only companies that addressed multimedia and its role in the future book. While McGraw-Hill is offering PDF textbooks because they are, "the easiest, fastest, cheapest solution." Dolphin is thinking about how to enrich the learning experience for everyone. They found that when students with no disabilities used their multimedia books, they learned more. Apparently the combination of text (reading), audio (hearing the text read by a human), and image (photos, videos or illustrations that illuminate the material) enhances learning. Designing electronic textbooks that exploit this opportunity seems like a no-brainer. Teachers I've spoken to and my own experience with students in the classroom suggests that multi-media ignites student enthusiasm. Making PDF textbooks is like driving a Jaguar in first gear. But after 10 years of experience in the field, McGraw-Hill's Ginny Moffet believes that: "students only care about the grade," and "the biggest challenge to the [electronic textbook] industry is the high cost of content creation." Hmmm, what about making a high quality product that everyone wants to buy, isn't that the problem they should be trying to solve? It's clear that the job of making an interesting electronic textbook is not being taken up by any of the old giants. Our prediction (and our hope) is that the future of the electronic textbook will not be directed by corporations, but by small start-ups, or non-profit consortiums of schools and academics. Efforts like the non-profit, Virtual High School, are an interesting beginning.
Frank Ciulla on April 18, 2005 11:45 AM:
I am the owner of Hudson Educational Services. My company is writing an on-line textbook for 8th grade science. We intend on writing more on-line textbooks in the future for all high school and early college math and science courses. The textbooks will include animated movies done in flash as well as real time movies. Hopefully people will like the result.
Bob Martinengo on May 21, 2005 1:40 PM:
The ATPC has a few pictures from the conference on our website. We gave out awards to publishers who have provided files for use by students with disabilities.