UniServe Science News Volume 16 July 2000


How Commercial Publishers are Responding to the New Teaching Technologies

Susannah Bowen
Pearson Education Australia

New technological capabilities are democratising education delivery. Increasingly, students demand information packaged and delivered through technology, whether on-campus or to their doors. Not only academics, but also the publishing companies, who provide commercially available materials to support the learning community, are now required to provide education through delivery systems to fit the situation of each individual learner.

The increasing demands of the educational market means publishers must have considerable resources to compete against each other. A trend of acquisitions and mergers and name changes make it difficult to keep track of which company carries which imprints. The large educational publishers include Pearson Education (Prentice Hall, Allyn & Bacon, Addison-Wesley, Longman), McGraw Hill (WC Brown and Irwin), Macmillan (Freeman, Routledge, Worth), Nelson ITP group (Brooks/Cole, Chapman and Hall, Jones and Bartlett, West), Wiley (Heath, Norton) and Harcourt (Dryden, Mosby, Saunders).1 These companies focus on producing resources for large undergraduate courses, leaving graduate areas to smaller publishers such as the university presses.

The majority of science textbooks are imported from the USA, where educational publishers are in a spiral where successive editions of big textbooks must have more and 'better' supplements than the titles they compete against, in answer to student and lecturer demand. The Australian market reflects these US trends, with lecturer expectation that a first year science text will be accompanied by instructor and student support material. On-line and technology supplements are largely where this pattern of demand is played out.

Early CD-ROMs and book web sites followed global technology trends in struggling to find balance between content and design features. Early supplements were often text based, perhaps with some pictures or limited interactivity, dumped into electronic format. As these tools grew in meaningful content, they also grew in educational pedagogy.

Current web sites and CD-ROMs aim towards user friendly features and pedagogy that improves student learning outcomes, incorporating meaningful content that complements the parent textbook:

  • book-specific 'companion' web sites complement individual textbooks and offer rich on-line learning environments for instructors and students. These web sites offer content to complement and extend the text material: web links; resources and references; case studies; 'ask the lecturer'; and chat rooms.
  • book-specific student CD-ROMs are commonly designed as electronic study guides, with self-testing questions, case studies, and interactive visualisations.
  • Some texts are core textbooks with study aids added on; other titles are truly integrated multimedia packages, hybrids that combine all technology solutions with a textbook, i.e. a book might be packaged with a CD-ROM containing the full text of the book as well as contextually placed multimedia icons, taking students beyond the pages of the traditional textbook and providing them with a rich multimedia learning experience.
  • Independent media tools not related to parent textbooks can offer deeper learning, structured pedagogically to maximise the benefits of the technology:

  • CD-ROMs that have the capability to handle graphics rich programs are particularly appropriate for teaching in areas that require visualisation and interactivity of concepts. The life sciences in particular benefit from graphically rich products that offer interactivity, such as laboratory CD-ROMs that allow students to gain extensive dry lab experience economically. In areas where theoretical and quantitative information is valuable, research links or data disks can be of more value.
  • Discipline specific web sites provide instructors and students with resources to enhance an entire discipline area, from introductory to upper level courses.
  • Instructor aids utilise new technologies too. Test banks were surely made to be electronic. CD-ROM and web format is particularly appropriate for digital art and interactive simulations from books and resource libraries, enabling instructors to build visually stunning lecture presentations.

    Commercially available course management systems combine publishers' on-line content with class management tools. WebCT was the first of these systems, followed by TopClass, Blackboard, eCollege, etc. Publishers make on-line course content available for use within course management systems, offering web-based content and resources such as on-line study guides, assessment databanks, lecture resource material, quizzes, guided Internet links, and lecture notes, keyed to specific texts, which allow creation of robust web-based courses that are easy to implement and manage. Most of the major publishers have alliances with these systems to provide this content, e.g. Pearson Education has alliances with WebCT, Blackboard and eCollege. Publishers have no investment in specific systems beyond their capability to provide support for lecturers' courses. Content can be provided in theory for any systems (including locally created systems); but use of the common systems simplifies the distribution channel. Most large first year texts and many upper level texts have content cartridges available for these course management systems.

    Publishers are now building course specific home pages for individual subjects. Pearson Education, McGraw Hill and other companies have the capability to personalise book sites to the lecturer's home page. A custom syllabus is created, with content from the textbook's web site integrated with custom content, assignments and quizzes.

    Special alliances are being developed to enhance the services available. For example, Pearson Education has an alliance with America Online (AOL) as supplier of educational content and on-line learning tools on AOL and its other brands. Pearson Education is collaborating with Versaware Inc. to convert and distribute textbooks to electronic format for CD-ROM, DVD and the Web. Pearson Education is collaborating with Blackboard to customize a version of Blackboard's leading software platform. These alliances create and facilitate the delivery of the content to wider audiences and provide infrastructure for e-commerce and retail sales.

    These new technologies are of enormous benefit to the education industry, facilitating distance learning, automating management of large classes and having significant teaching advantages for visualisation of complex scientific processes. Publishers have extended their services from traditional print based products to providing content in a variety of flexible formats. Some of the developments listed above have happened in the last few months. As universities and academics continue to develop educational needs and frameworks for implementing these technologies, publishers will continue to respond.

    Figure 1.

    Figure 1. Sample of eCollege study guide

    Figure 2.

    Figure 2. Physlet problem

    1. Information current to the best knowledge of the author at the time of article submission.

    Susannah Bowen
    Marketing Manager
    Humanities and Sciences Division
    Pearson Education Australia

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    UniServe Science News Volume 16 July 2000

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