Lose the Pen

Amidst a digital shift, innovators and educators must rethink course materials.

GUEST COLUMN | by Sieva Kozinsky

If I tell you there’s a practical problem with education content, you might think: “Ah yes, another piece about the price of textbooks and the tyranny of MOOCs.” You’re not wrong. But these are only symptoms of a larger, digital revolution that’s taking place in education today.

As the industry pivots to digital, innovators and educators are changing the way we think about course materials altogether. How do faculty decide what materials to use to teach their students? With rampant accessibility to information online, who has the best textbooks and materials for my students? How do I know the information I’m giving them is actually useful?

Print isn’t the whole problem

When Seth Godin, legend of marketing and business disruption complains, people listen. A rant on textbooks is expected from any student, but Seth’s clearly defines the problems and why the market is ripe for disruption. Here’s my takeaway of his three main problems:

Price – No brainer; just plain too expensive.

Effectiveness – Students rarely rave about a captivating textbook.

Utility – While education is dynamic, textbooks are static, heirlooms of a pre-digital world.

His article (read it here), written almost four years ago, holds true to this day. The textbook industry has such a stronghold on the market that materials have become fairly stagnant. And as Big Publishers scramble to provide students with digital solutions, they manage only to put lipstick on a pig and leave much to be desired. What the vast majority of publishers call digital content today is a basic scan, a Frankenstein digital copy of a pre-digital relic. Albeit cheaper, this option is sold under a veil of greater utility, with little variety. This will not be a successful business model for our big publishing companies down the road.  As the vast treasures of the Internet’s free content spoil students, companies in the education publishing field must adapt to survive.

The latest push of edtech products is addressing Seth’s three main points head on. This means not only providing low-cost, high(-er) value solutions to all corners of the world, but partnering with educators to bring education content up to 21st-century standards. So what will surface when the clock strikes and textbooks are forever a thing of the past like the once omnipresent Encyclopedia Britannica? I don’t know. But as a recent grad, tech geek and entrepreneur — I can venture a guess.

Customizable Course Content

In due revolutionary process, the opportunity to innovate has opened the education publishing industry wide open. Over the last 20 years, many teachers and professors have turned away from traditional textbooks, and instead have begun creating custom content in the form of course readers. Already, a variety of companies like Boundless and Flatworld Knowledge aim to provide affordable and new-age replacements to current course materials, helping educators handpick the right material for the right course. You can create content with video and audio, link it to OER (Open Education Resources, more on those soon), and have it delivered to any person, on any device, anywhere in the world! If I sound excited, it’s because I am! We’re not talking about MOOCs here, because not everyone wants to take an online course. We are talking about the evolution of course materials for your classroom.

Guy Kawasaki, Chief Evangelist at Apple, co-founder of Garage Ventures, and award-winning author, predicted the end of traditional publishers — and the time has come for education publishers as well. The latest tools allow for social interaction and collaboration, while providing a platform for research, note taking and essay writing. Naturally, custom course content will continue to proliferate, and as more educators learn to leverage technology, any product that facilitates this type of educational value will likely grow.

Another likely future alluded to by Guy Kawasaki is — dare I even mention it? Self-publishing. You know exactly what your students need for your course and, if your students need it, then somebody else’s students need it, too! Not only will this encourage collaboration between educators, but there is a glaring market opportunity as well. Self-publishing reduces publishing fees and gives educators the tools to make relevant and engaging course materials that students desperately need.

Course Content in Real-Time

So in an effort to find a solution in Seth Godin’s rants, and make Guy Kawasaki’s dream come true, I urge you to go out there and explore the possibilities. Once you’ve explored, don’t hesitate to create or re-create content for your students. You can make education content dynamic and reflexive. What we are witnessing is the textbook transforming from static page to real-time education tool.

The tools are available and the market is still in its seed stages. For innovators, this means your opportunity to get picked up by millions of students worldwide is very real. Just keep your prices low, your quality high, and crowds will follow, we like to say. The final challenge is the educator’s onus — teachers and professors need to feel compelled to customize these materials with interactive features, add videos, edit materials when they see fit, and encourage students to try something new. Ultimately, that’s a better model for education content, and from where I’m coming, I support that model.

Sieva Kozinsky is the founder of StudySoup, a content discovery, creation and delivery platform for the education space with which any faculty can create content and deliver it to students with full interactive and collaborative features. Contact Sieva through www.studysoup.com


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