Inside - white paper series
Fall 2010
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Textbook publisher Pearson says digital textbooks are only one part of the equation

California Governor Schwarzenegger’s request was responded to by several nonprofits, as well as textbook publishing house Pearson, which is now producing more technology-based instructional materials every year.

“We don't call them digital ‘textbooks’ because our digital-based programs are much more than a textbook,” says Stacy Skelly, Director of Communications at Pearson.

“Many of our K-12 courses are now available in 100 percent digital versions which are better described as robust and interactive learning systems with animations, videos, tutorials, embedded assessment and interventions available for teacher, student, or parent.”

Skelly notes that the technology actually delivers the instructional materials, but that is only one part of the equation as far as how technology is being used in today's classrooms.

“To maximize student achievement, we also need to pay attention to the hardware and software to run school systems for data management, assessments, and other technology components that interface to provide teachers individualized daily updates on each student's performance,” she concludes.

For more information on Pearson’s digital textbook program, visit

4. Textbook Publishers Jump On The Digital Bandwagon

As more K-12 school districts and universities begin buying textbooks online, publishers are having to ramp up or face a loss of market share. McGraw-Hill, which earned gross revenues of $5.95 billion in 2009, is one of the publishers leading the charge.

Its education arm, McGraw-Hill School Education, generates the second most in revenue for the firm, but it is much less profitable than the financial services division. Nonetheless, it makes up about 40 percent of the $800 million textbook publishing industry, according to financial experts. Competitors include Houghton Mifflin, Reed Elsevier, and Pearson (see our interview with Stacy Skelly, Director of Communications at Pearson, left).

Fairfax County Public School’s PreK-12 Social Studies Coordinator Alice Reilly is helping to organize the pilot program for digital textbooks this year (read more about that on Page 5).

To get a better idea about what textbook publishers are doing to provide online materials, she talked to Dan Caton, Executive Vice President of McGraw-Hill School Education, about his plans for McGraw-Hill School Education.

FCPS’s Alice Reilly interviews the executive VP of McGraw-Hill School Education

Alice Reilly: As we read more and more about digital resources, describe what your company is planning for the future of instructional resources in content areas.

Dan Caton: McGraw-Hill has an aggressive development plan for digital program development in all subject areas. One strand of this strategy is digital tools for teachers, which includes online teacher editions, record-keeping, assessment, data analysis, and student grouping and support. Another strand of this strategy is student instructional content, which includes everything from direct instruction to practice of skills and concepts to specially constructed games for engagement and practice.

Alice Reilly: How will these resources be different from a traditional textbook that the majority of school systems are using now?

Dan Caton: They will be much more interactive and adaptive, and by interactive we mean that the child will be more engaged with the content because the digital approach requires response and activity rather than a passive reading-only experience. By adaptive we mean that the presentation of instruction or practice will change based on a student's performance–if the student performs well, then the presentation moves more quickly, but if the student displays confusion or error, the presentation moves more into a supportive or intervention mode.

Alice Reilly: What do schools need to do to prepare for these changing resources?

Dan Caton: Three things are vital to a successful digital instruction expansion in a school: adequate infrastructure, teacher training, and resource evaluation.

1. Adequate infrastructure requires careful budgeting and planning to make sure the hardware, connectivity, and maintenance of the system come together at the same time in stages–having a huge number of computers purchased for students without the maintenance support to fix them and connect them is wasteful.

2. Teacher training is often overlooked as more and digital natives become teachers, but even the most tech-savvy young people know little or nothing about student data analysis or the best way to present a lesson on an interactive white board. And a district must commit long term to teacher training, because new teachers and new digital tools will be arriving every year.

3. Resource evaluation requires a district to wisely choose from among the thousands of online resources, platforms, and digital devices that will be appearing yearly with claims to improve education. Evaluation committees comprised of savvy teachers, IT professionals, and other advisors will need to determine if submitted assessment and instructional programs are research-based, carefully tested, and backed by a reliable and trusted source. Many wild claims are being made, often with great sincerity, and districts will need to be wary and skeptical.

Alice Reilly: What timeline do you see for the implementation of these resources?

Dan Caton: A school's timeline depends on many factors. If the school has a principal who is a digital leader, teachers who are well-trained and eager for technology, a solid IT infrastructure, and a supportive community, then digital suppliers like McGraw-Hill and others are ready now and can help a school move quickly. If some of these factors are not present, then the school or district should develop a plan for improving the lagging indicators and in the meantime institute their digital plan in stages to gain the support that is needed over years.

Alice Reilly: The Horizon Report (a collaboration of the New Media Consortium and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative) discuss trends in educational technology for the short (3-5 years) and long term (5-10 years). What trends do you see in the publishing industry both in the short and long term for education, particularly in the K-12 environment?

Dan Caton: The trend toward data generation and analysis is unmistakable and central to customizing learning for students' needs. But districts should be careful not to put raw data or even baseline analysis in teacher's hands, as they are not trained for this function and don't have the time for it. Luckily, more and more digital programs are able to interpret data and recommend instruction, often in multiple media, freeing teachers to do what they do best, work directly with students on meeting their goals. McGraw-Hill is one of those providers poised to offer such help to schools.

Alice Reilly: Recognizing that school systems are in tight budget times and the technology changes so quickly, what can educational institutions do to meet these changes that might take place in the publishing industry?

Dan Caton: The most important thing is to be skeptical, strategically minded buyers. Don't rush to the devices with the prettiest formats or be lured by online instruction that makes superficial claims of efficacy. On the other hand, be careful not to go for the cheapest solution, either. Some free open-source content is quite good, but most is not, and districts who leap too far in this direction may soon find that what they paid for their students’ education may not be worth the money.

Learn more about McGraw-Hill School Education here:

Click to page 5 to learn more about FCPS’ digital textbook pilot program.

inside is an online publication published by the Fairfax County Public Schools Instructional Services Department. Its mission is to share thoughts and ideas about curriculum and assessment that are fundamental to the good work FCPS principals and teachers are doing with students.

Questions and comments are welcome and should be directed to Peter Noonan: / 571-423-4510.