Editors Note: This guest post is written by Max Mark: the founder and CEO of ED MAP, a Course Materials Management company, whose services and technology simplifies the discovery, adoption, management, and delivery of quality educational content. You can follow him on Twitter @athensmax.
Hats off to Ariel Diaz and Boundless for his insightful analysis here on Educelerate and for his company’s efforts to provide low cost digital textbooks. As a company, ED MAP has been in the textbook distribution industry for over a decade. We concur with his market profile and the facts, figures, and sentiments about the textbook industry. And while we agree with his argument and his premises, particularly as it pertains to digital and low cost access of information, we wind up in a different place with slightly different conclusions.
I know this is hard to believe, but when I began to drive at the age of 16, gasoline was no more than twenty-five cents per gallon. I could use my parent’s car, put a dollars worth of gas in it, and drive around all evening with a group of friends cruising the streets and do the kinds of edgy things that high school boys do. Fast forward, nearly five decades later and little has changed except the price. Cars still consume gasoline, climate change is upon us, China emerges as a significant user of fossil fuel and other market factors simply drive the cost of gasoline up and up. Hybrid cars are on the scene, electric cars may be around the corner, and variations on personal transportation and/or mass transit seem to be on the cusp of significant change.
While it is not a perfect analogy, it puts me in mind of the textbook industry and the many insights provided by Mr. Diaz. But when all is said and done, a digital textbook is still a textbook. Not unlike a car is still a car. We have seen low cost and no cost textbooks emerge, but admittedly a no cost business model is a tough way to make money! Ask those that have tried.
So while the efforts of Boundless and other erstwhile companies are to be applauded, they conclude that the answer is a low cost book consumed via a different methodology, i.e. digital. At ED MAP we have a very different emphasis, even though we are still deeply immersed in distributing print books and e-textbooks. We believe less in the product and more in the process. We believe in the centricity of the faculty member and through our own products, services, and software aim to help learning in the classroom take advantage of the best that’s out there.
A few years ago, we stopped using the term textbook, which takes me to the heart of the issue. We like to point out that we distribute course materials today, which of course may be inclusive of textbooks both print and digital. But that is indicative of where our sentiment lies now and has been for many years. The answer is not in the product, but is in the learning process. The answer is in the classroom, physical or virtual. The end consumer of course materials is of course the student, but the tools and the decisions critical to the process rest with the faculty and/or course designer.
In the past when we think about the “tools” needed to assist a faculty member to effectively teach, we thought of the textbook. But as Mr. Diaz begins to suggest, there is so much more information out there, one does not need a “textbook” from the big five publishers. He cites OER as a rich resource. We like to get beyond that. We like to think about faculty generated material, and all the rich resources available on line.
The real problem that we are attempting to tackle is how do we get the user, in this case the faculty member, to understand what is out there and how can we assist them in finding and curating that information.
At ED MAP we consult with schools, help them manage the change from print to digital classroom resources. In that process it is essential we provide faculty with information about how to assemble course materials to fit learning objectives. It is a fascinating process to watch, as those who are slow to adapt and adopt begin to struggle with the individualized challenge of what do I teach, why do I teach it this way, what do I hope to accomplish and what can I use to help students get to where I think they should be. Once they begin to break down the learning environment and the classroom dynamics they have become accustomed to, they are quick to understand the value of the unique products coming to market from companies like Boundless.
But for ED MAP, the user is the faculty member and the challenge is teaching the teacher or the course designer. Tradition suggests courses should be taught around the textbooks that are available, and that is how the big five achieved market dominance. Our approach is holistic and starts with the faculty versus the material and what they want or need to be an effective instructor.
My favorite example to use when working with faculty is to ask them what resources they might find useful in teaching a course on the history of World War II. There are so many resources if one decides from the beginning that a textbook is not the way to go. There are PDF’s of treaties, black and white newsreels, audio files of great radio speeches, old photos of battle scenes or military equipment, interviews with veterans, and the list can go on and on limited only by imagination.
In this course on World War II, finding and curating is essential. What one does with the discovery of the materials becomes a secondary decision. Shall I create a low cost OER book/file, or should the material be embedded in the institution’s LMS, or should the faculty choose their own alternative on how to present the material. The genius is in the learning process, not the product. And as long as the traditional teaching model of one to many exists there needs to be consistency on what to put in front of the learner for consumption, and for education.
As we continue to consult with schools and assist them in moving in to new ways to utilize course materials we are constantly amazed by the excitement and the creativity of faculty. As a company we still sell millions of dollars worth of print books, new and used, rentals and e-books but we are emerging in to the new eco-system as a company at the heart of the learning process, where faculty, student, technology, and information all come together.
To paraphrase an old expression which typifies the textbook industry, there is great chaos under heaven and the situation is excellent.
As I began this piece so will I end it, hats off to Boundless and all the other companies we rely on to bring new and innovative ideas to our constituency.