What it’s like moving from traditional print to digital content
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
With over 30 years of success in educational publishing, Rourke Educational Media is an industry leader in meeting their customers’ growing needs for educational technology including eBook nonfiction and fiction resources, print, software and ELL instructional programs, available through customized distribution solutions. Jim Colandrea (pictured) is the owner of Rourke Educational Media and feels that meeting a customers needs with customized solutions is critical to a successful teaching program. With so many learning styles, Rourke provides the tools to support differentiated instruction from student to student and classroom-to-classroom, says Jim, and now with the advent of digital content, the game is changing. Here’s an in-depth look at what so many publishers are going through from someone who’s both in the trenches and has a high-level look at the entire shifting educational publishing landscape.
Victor: Rourke has a long history in traditional print publishing for education. When did you realize that you wanted to move the company into being a digital content provider? What was the impetus and your vision? How did you get started in educational technology?
Jim: In the year 2000, I bought controlling operational interest of Rourke Publishing. With “No Child Left Behind” legislation, the segue of technology moving into the educational market and by calling on the trusted relationships of my sales force and staff, we began to repurpose our print content. I felt it would be necessary to separate ourselves from the other publishers who were developing paperback editions and Teacher’s Guides going from the library business to the classroom. Using our print content developed at the time, we began to develop software applications of fluency practice, comprehension and writing craft delivered to students as web-based programs for the classroom computer labs. There was a flurry of activity among publishers at this time going to the supplementary market and we felt these applications gave us a strategic advantage. From an instructional perspective, we began to align ourselves with practitioners of fluency and comprehension as well as research such as reports from the National Reading Panel.
Victor: Describe your first technology products for education, what those taught you about learners and educators, how they evolved, and what those led to today.
Jim: Our first technology program — “Focus on Fluency” — was designed for grades K-5 based on our nonfiction informational text. The program was installable, that is, it was platform specific. The program captured recordings of students reading controlled passages at running record rates. We also provided individual student folders as a progress-monitoring device for teachers. With the fluency component of this program, FOF opened the door for successful applications in Dual Language Programs throughout major urban school districts across the country. As technology advances and educators become more comfortable with these technological advances, what has evolved and will continue to evolve in the future, is the tandem transition that both content providers and the educational community follow. Single sign-on enabling districts to host a collection of programs and BYOD’s are examples of the future.
Victor: What’s your most successful technology product or service today? What does it do for the teacher, the student, and most importantly — achievement?
Jim: We’ve achieved excellent results with our Reading Web program. RW has fostered success with vocabulary development in the ELL world. With that said, our current eRead and Report program developed in the last 6 months has far exceeded our sales and most importantly our student results expectations. eRead and Report has a pretest or placement program, and access to over 1,000 nonfiction and fiction titles correlated to common core, TEKS, and Standards of Learning. The post practice or assessment and the rubrics record in the student folder identifies individual strengths and weaknesses. Thus, the instructional value for teachers is that they know were to get a student started, in the program reading level wise. They know that the student is reading strong informational text and the assessment provides the teacher validation that the program works because it identifies the strengths and weaknesses of the student as they move forward in the guided reading levels of the content.
Victor: How can companies like Rourke provide the content and the delivery systems schools need? Can any one company provide everything?
Jim: No one company can provide everything a school district and students need. I can’t imagine any educator disagreeing. There are just too many factors, with a diversification of student cultures, with uncertain funding, and the different levels of the technology proficiency among educators. Content providers are going to need to optimize the delivery of their content for a variety of devices and in the future be able to deliver the content to the unique demands of every LMS device coming to the market. PD implementation and tech support is critical to the support of the district to get the program up and running and being used!
Victor: How is Rourke working with the international education market?
Jim: Rourke Educational Media develops strong K-8 science content. We align this content to the benchmarks of STEM and the “Next Generation” standards. Science is a global content area that travels the world universally both in print and obviously software. Rourke has experienced international educational success with countries in the Far East and Middle East in particular. International is one of our fastest growing business segments. REM is expanding our international market by delivering econtent, ebooks and partnering with those that we feel the most comfortable and confident to do so.
Victor: How does having digital books and reading comprehension software like Rourke’s eRead and Report, which was launched this year, change the dynamic of how kids learn?
Jim: We all recognize that students today are coming from a world of mobile devices and electronic communication. Rourke’s eRead and Report provides an opportunity for repeated reading practice with our strategic comprehension questions indigenous to each title and our Tier II and Tier III vocabulary words found in our glossaries. Students have the ability with repeated reading practice to revisit what they just read and find the answers in a much more accessible fashion. It beats the paging through a large basal textbook. Of course all of this can be done by the student at home, at school, on any device.
Victor: All publishers have interactive ebooks nowadays. How are Rourke’s different from other publishers’ ebook offerings?
Jim: The factors that makes Rourke’s software program different from others are important to both the teachers and the students. Rourke’s software is a one-time purchase. In today’s unknown funding environment, there is a high value to eRead and Report and Reading Web knowing there are no renewal fees, no annual subscriptions, and no seat licensing. Once a school buys our programs every student in the building will have access in the school, at home or simultaneously with other students forever without any further payments. We also provide professional development and technical support at no charge. It is critical for Rourke, that the teacher’s use the program. We want teacher’s to have the confidence and know we are there to support them, while achieving student gains. For students working with eRead and Report, after they finish reading the title, and they are unsure of an answer they have easy access going back and finding the correct information. This isn’t always the case with other programs on the market.
Victor: Publishing books and software are two different skills. How does a small business like yours find the talent to produce these products?
Jim: The genesis of both our print and software materials are developed by our powerful editorial team. They guide the instructional value of the content as a whole. The challenge is the technological development differences between print and e delivery. Finding people to preform these functions in Vero Beach, FL isn’t easy. Fortunately I am blessed with a strong management team, dedicated employees, and experienced educational advisers. And did I say I lot of hustle?
Victor: How are you meeting the needs for future readers/learners?
Jim: We have to keep our eye on the editorial focus. By that I mean we have to meet the requirements of CCSS, Next Generation and STEM. A strong marriage of photo, text and caption builds comprehension and vocabulary. It is also essential that we study the data from our relatively new programs so that we can share the successes and learn from the challenges. We also must optimize our applications for the cross platforms and BYOD demands of the future.
Victor: You’ve seen a lot of changes during your career in education. What changes do you envision for the K – 8 market over the next 10 years?
Jim: At Rourke we believe any comment about future technology stays in history. Both for the content providers and the educators, educational technology is a moving target. There is an enormous amount of content available. It is tough to find common denominators in the applications but on the encouraging side I think the educational community is becoming far more comfortable and confident in their technology proficiency. I believe you are going to see more and more Learning Management Systems developed by school systems because with the plethora of programs being purchased, a single sign on for a username and password for the student is going to become critical.
Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. Get your story told through case studies, white papers and other materials you can share at trade shows and on your website. Write to: [email protected]