In the shift from print to digital, a family legacy modernizes a classic need.
INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero
As districts around the country make the transition from print textbooks to interactive digital platforms, smart legacy publishers are moving with them. In this interview, Ted Levine (pictured), the president and CEO of Kids Discover, shares his family-owned company’s journey from 20-page magazines to customizable digital content.
How long has Kids Discover been publishing nonfiction for kids?
Ted: Kids Discover was founded in 1991 by my father Mark Levine, and was originally launched as a subscription magazine for children ages 6-12. Each issue would focus on a single subject and feature topics such as Insects, Ancient Greece, Antarctica, and Cells. Issues read like short books, but were designed as 20-page magazines, with beautiful
We’ve worked very hard to give educators and students access to our entire library from any device. Now we’ll be working to find ways to create deeper integrations
with various learning management systems, such as Google Classroom and Edmodo.
photos, illustrations, and captions geared to excite and engage young readers. Many parents, who subscribed to the magazine for their children were also educators, and soon there was demand to use our back issues in the classroom. More than 25 years later, our audience is comprised of parents and homeschool educators, but our biggest audience is elementary and middle school educators and students.
What was the big catalyst that inspired the move from print to digital publishing?
Ted: In short, demand. The classroom has evolved so much since Kids Discover first began publishing, and that evolution has really accelerated over the last five years. With many districts moving towards a 1:1 computing model in the classroom, we want to make sure that each student can have their own access to Kids Discover’s library of resources at a fair and affordable cost per student.
What can digital content offer students and teachers that print couldn’t?
Ted: I’m a big believer that print will always have a place at the table, and that it can deliver an experience that is both valuable and enriching for a young learner. But there are certain things that print cannot do. You can’t play a video in a magazine, or interact with a 3-D panorama. You can’t participate in a poll and see the results update in real time. There are limitations to printed products.
One specific example that pertains to our newest platform, Kids Discover Online, is that we can serve up three different reading levels. This is a feature that educators were asking us to do in 2004 with our print products, but being a small, family-owned publisher, having three versions of each title was never a reality from an economic standpoint. With digital, it was a huge investment upfront to rewrite all of our content so that we could offer three different reading levels for each article, but now those reading levels can be served up instantaneously with a click of a button. That’s incredibly powerful.
On the flip side, tell me about your ongoing demand for print products. Is it that districts want both print and digital, or do you have a significant number of “print-only” customers?
Ted: Because our online offering is only a couple months old, the majority of our customers are still print. But we’re already seeing past print customers come in and purchase digital subscriptions in addition to our print titles, or in some cases, in place of print altogether. On a per-student basis, our online offering is significantly more affordable than our print products, but there is still a large percentage of schools that don’t have 1:1 devices or adequate WiFi for streaming digital content. Our ideal customers want a mix of both, and understand that both mediums hold a place in a blended environment, which seems to be gaining more and more momentum.
What sort of feedback have you gotten from administrators and teachers about the digital content?
Ted: Teachers absolutely love the three reading levels, which we do not offer in print. Administrators love that our online offering is platform-agnostic and web-based, which works for a vast array of device types and sizes, and requires very few resources to implement and no resources to maintain. That also enables students to access our library from their home, or even on the go from their mobile device.
What sort of constructive criticism have you gotten from administrators and teachers about digital content?
Ted: Assessments! Outside of some small quiz questions that are embedded throughout the content, we have no formal assessments in our online platform. We’re working with a number of educators across the country to figure out the best way to implement a solution into Kids Discover Online. Our number one priority is to make our assessment solution easy to use for teachers, and to make it customizable. A third-grade teacher in Texas is probably going to be asking some different questions that a seventh-grade teacher in Ohio. If we can create a solution that gives more control to the educator—without creating a lot of additional work—we think that will be powerful.
What’s the next step in the evolution of Kids Discover?
Ted: Right now we are really committed to the further development and evolution of Kids Discover Online. We’ve worked very hard to give educators and students access to our entire library from any device. Now we’ll be working to find ways to create deeper integrations with various learning management systems, such as Google Classroom and Edmodo. Possible integrations could include single sign-in access, and also assessment solutions that pass information from Kids Discover online into a building’s LMS. We’ll also be rolling out a standards widget in March that will demonstrate how our library aligns to specific state and Common Core standards. We’re also very interested in rolling out resources in other languages, most notably Spanish. We want to continually improve and adapt our platform as classrooms continue to evolve.
Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: [email protected]