Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
By Beth Bacon
Creative breakthroughs are happening in educational publishing like never before. Justin Hamilton, Senior Vice President of Corporate Communications at Amplify, thinks he knows why. Today, three key factors are converging: tech prices are declining, the Common Core has been adopted by most states, and innovative publishers are offering more educational content. It all adds up to an environment of innovation for publishers interested in K-12 education.
Reason 1: Falling Tech Prices
Falling tech prices combined with rising technical capabilities are bringing more computing power to classrooms. “World-class devices are now available that allow students, teachers and administrators to do things they’ve never been able to do before,” said Hamilton. The Pew Internet & American Life Project reports that more than four in ten teachers currently use e-readers (45%) and tablet computers (43%). There’s general agreement these percentages will grow. With broadening access to handheld, wireless devices, “we’re able to re-imagine how teachers teach and children learn,” said Hamilton.
Reason 2: The Common Core
The second factor in today’s educational publishing explosion is the adoption of the Common Core Standards by forty-five states and the District of Columbia. “The Common Core is the equivalent of the transcontinental railroad,” said Hamilton, “We’ve moving from a patchwork of standards across the country to common standards from coast to coast. It opens doors to inspire the best and the brightest to develop new, effective curricula.”
These new Common Core-based curricula often integrate digital media and internet connectivity via tablets. Some of the curricula are being developed by new publishers like Hamilton’s company, Amplify. Other digital textbooks are being created by traditional publishers. Still others are being designed by innovative school districts that have developed successful programs and want to share that success with others.
Reason 3: The Democratization of Publishing
The third factor contributing to innovation in educational publishing is the changing structure of publishing itself. In the past, Hamilton has observed, conventional publishers created textbooks for the largest four states (Texas, New York, Florida and California) then “tinkered around” with those main textbooks to create textbooks the other 46 states. “It’s like conventional publishing has been serving four entries with unlimited side dishes,” said Hamilton. With that model, the driving force in educational publishing had been marketing, not innovation.
Today, innovators like Sal Kahn, cK-12, and the team at Desmos are blazing new ground with digital learning tools. The low cost-of-entry for creating educational products that are internet-based and/or digital has democratized publishing. People with big ideas, yet little budgets, can now build out their visions and offer their programs directly to students and educators.
Remaking the Learning Experience
Hamilton’s company, Amplify, (the education division of News Corp), is taking advantage of this creative environment. Amplify brings together hardware, software, networks, curricula, communication, and teacher support—with the goal of improving learning. “We’re taking transformative digital content and remaking the learning experience,” said Hamilton.
Amplify is not afraid to use the word “gaming” and “learning” in the same sentence. Tools such as The Writer’s Express take the concept of “textbook” and make it three-dimensional by combining a whole range of activities, including instruction, writing, sharing, and feedback.
Support From Classroom to IT Department
Amplify provides technology solutions and support to all stakeholders in all parts of the K-12 ecosystem—from the classroom, to the IT department, to the administrative offices. The company delivers hardware (the Amplify tablet), open-source learning and instructional tools (the tablets are pre-loaded), and connectivity (in partnership with AT&T). Amplify also offers teacher training, which they believe is key to the successful deployment of technology in K-12 schools.
“There’s a thoughtful way to empower teachers, to allow them to differentiate instruction and give every kid what they need in their own time,” said Hamilton. The system includes management tools that allow teachers, in real time, to collect feedback on student progress. In addition, a social platform lets students, and teachers share messages and assignments. The solution provides educators windows into each student’s performance and tools for everyone to communicate about what they’re learning.
Amplify tablets are content agnostic and the content is platform agnostic. That means educators can add content to the platform, and students can access the digital tools on any platform. Amplify’s platform is powered by the Android operating system.
Connectivity: A Challenge for Many Schools
“Adequate connectivity is a huge challenge for schools,” said Hamilton, who noted that a lot of school buildings were built in the 1950’s and designed to take on a secondary role as fallout shelters. Those thick walls make wi-fi challenging. If a district needs internet connectivity, Amplify coordinates the setup of 4G wireless networks via AT&T.
Too Early To Measure Results
Since the 1990’s, K-12 schools have spent millions on hardware, software, and digital content but few can prove those investments have resulted in better learning outcomes. “You can’t do technology for technology’s sake,” said Hamilton, “There’s a thoughtful way to empower teachers, to allow them to differentiate instruction and give every kid what they need in their own time.”
Amplify’s platform has achieved high ratings for “enthusiasm and engagement,” but it’s too early to evaluate the effectiveness of the platform’s learning outcomes. “We need to have a longitudinal study to measure the results,” said Hamilton. “Our biggest focus is providing schools, students, and teachers the tools and resources that make the most difference.”
Hamilton hopes that all publishers with ideas about improving learning will engage in a collective conversation. “We are actively building content for school districts to use,” said Hamilton. When more content is available on open-source platforms such as Amplify, more students can benefit.
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