By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: I see. That actually gives me a good segway into one of the most important discussions in your industry today, or at least the way the greater technology world hears about your industry, which is the movement of textbooks to e-books and the rise of the Kindle and, iPad’s iBook application, and so on. Where are you going? What is your strategy, and when can we expect to see the movement to more e-book solutions for students?
PW: Our intent is to move everything in that direction. Two of the things that hold us back are, oddly enough, state legislation and the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This legislation does not want anyone to be disadvantaged because of socioeconomic background. If programs and solutions are based solely on technology, there are students who can’t afford the technology. And if the school district can’t provide that technology to the students, they can’t purchase only that. So, it puts us with one foot solidly on each side of that line, which has changed the way we develop content. We used to develop through the book and then adapt for technology. Now, we develop in a way that is agnostic to how content is consumed. But all of our programs are going that way, and one of the programs we have had good deal of success with in California is a science fusion, which is an interactive lab that was developed specifically for the iPad. It allows a teacher to do similar teaching in a lab when mixing different compounds and observing the outcome without ever having to use the physical materials. You can do it all on the iPad and have a very good experience that fits all of the states’ standards for education. So, we are going more toward being a solution provider and less of only creating books or electronic delivery.
SM: Today, I am sure you have different segments in your client base: the affluent segment, people who can afford the full technology, and those who cannot. For of your affluent client base, where people can afford the technology and have access to iPads or Kindles, in the K-12 world is that segment in a position to go completely electronic? Are we there yet?
PW: We are not there with every program. Bethlam Forsa, executive VP of content development and publishing operations at HMH, is definitely striving toward that goal. When you look at an organization such as ours that has been around for more than 180 years, there is a tremendous amount of legacy content that needs to be modified, tagged, and adjusted. Some of the programs go back to pre-press film age. There is a tremendous amount of work involved in going completely electronic. All of our new programs are 100% digitally developed. Today, all of our benchmarks and assessments are developed in order to be delivered electronically.
SM: What do you have to do as a CIO to support that movement?
PW: Well, there is a tremendous amount of work from our perspective on ingesting and converting that content and then supporting the workflows for it, as well as creating individual repositories.
SM: That was going to be my next question; if you could add some color to that, that would be great.
PW: Sure. Over the years, we have used a number of ways to create content from Quark. Most recently, we are re-creating learning objects. These are objects that can be disassembled and re-assembled, instead of just digital print images. The way in which we would expect to receive data or to receive content is extremely varied today. It didn’t used to be that way. So, we are dealing with all different types of ingestion modes and trying to make the workflow for the librarians; we call them the in-house librarians. They need to tag the data, they need to physically align the data with state standards and build, if you will, build a book between the pedagogues and the content.
Supporting that is pretty substantial. The actual creation of the tools and the workflow for that rests within Blum’s group, supported by us. They are constantly trying to innovate in how to best create and assemble on the fly or assemble so that you can publish on the fly. For example, if your class is weak in certain standards, you could create a shorter version of the text based on where students are weak in order to enrich their experience. Those are the types of things we do together and struggle with those a bit because there is back-end business workflow; there is the challenge of propelling that sort of product. Whether and how you charge, how you associate rights and royalties information to the content when a teacher is assembling his or her own book – those are some of the challenges. It is this operational side that is really new to us.