16 Delivery for education

Liam Borgstrom (ed.)

Just as commercial publications can be made available through a wide medium of platforms and devices, so can the same be done for the educational sector. Which is a commercial sector in itself but one with a more ethical obligation to fulfill.

problems facing educational digital publications:

  1. Cost: the technological infrastructure needs to be in place
  2. Training: Students and teachers require that the necessary skills and aptitude to operate the technology
  3. Competition: the platform should be one that is open to all and doesn’t lead to monopolies among publishers or device manufacturers. One device cannot “rule them all”.
  4. Standards: The standard on which publications are built must be strong enough to support the cost and technology as well as the outcomes for education.

ZA Books launches in Jo’Burg (6 Feb 2013)

Aspects of e-textbooks

Educational material is required to be increasingly complex, as it must not only filled with readable content, but be produced in such a way that they are engaging for the students and easily integrated into the classroom by the teachers.

To this end e-textbooks generally contain:

  • High colour usage
  • In-built tests
  • Video content
  • Animations
  • Interactive maps and diagrams

Industry players

Many publishers are making in-roads into their own proprietary platforms creating books using ePub, PDF and various apps. There are non-publishers providing consulting assistance and providing software solutions.

Two major players are:

  1. Apple: developed one of the first ePub3 compliant reading apps (iBooks) and created with it iBooks Author which makes use of custom mark-up to create an iBooks standard which contains support for Javascript functionality, HTML 5, and CSS 3 support. This as a business business decision meant that iPads could become a viable platform for e-textbooks in schools. The iBooks Author software is also targeted not at publishers, but at teachers looking to make their own material. Educational books are then distributed through iTunes U.
  2. Inkling: are one of the most successful third-party tech providers. While there were other attempts to create to create worthwhile e-textbook systems (such as Kno, and Nook Study), Inkling created a complete XML publishing system that could create both ePub3 and app specific content. They stand-out as a case-study as they provided a viable platform for publishers which worked within iOS and Android systems, while also targeting publishers. Up until recently their system was open to public beta testing.

As publishers are improving their systems, their production technologies are integrating with LMSs (Learner Management Systems) which allow schools to offer content as a complete digital content solution which allows for progress tracking, automated reporting structures, assignment tracking and grading, integrated hybrid learning solutions, and so forth…

LMSs

A learner management system is intended to control registered learners’ access to content, assessment, and grades, while presenting the curriculum through the use of modules. Modules may be set-up in advance with features such as:

  • time-delayed release
  • custom access controls for different student groups
  • interactive quizzes, puzzles, and achievements

A successful LMS allow the student to take charge of their own learning and proceed at a pace comfortable to their learning needs, while alerting the educator should the student fall behind.

It has become the practice of educational publishers to provide as much support material to the educator as possible. This support can come in the form of class notes, slides, assessment activities, instructional videos, and interactive LMS plug-ins.

While some publishers and institutions have sought to develop their own LMSs, one can purchase white-label[1] packages such as Moodle, and Blackboard which provide a range of functionality to be customised according to the needs of the learning centre.

 Delivery needs

E-textbooks are particularly large affairs and unless they are maintained with an on-site server they require that all their content is included in the file. This means that a single interactive book could be up and over 1GB in size. What’s more the device handling them needs to meet with the format standards. It need not necessarily have the best hardware, but at least support the software.

To provide a smooth response, devices intended for education should have suitable processing power to allow for simple graphic and textual manipulation without lag. They also require a large hard-drive, long battery life, wi-fi connectivity, low weight, and an efficient and user-friendly interface.

This trend began with the introduction of computer labs in schools, and a portion of learning dedicated to learning in the labs. Laptops are often not ideal for education because of their value, weight, and high-power consumption. With the growth of mobile technologies from 2010 onward there has been much experimentation using tablet computers in the classroom. In some cases, this has met with failure, in others success. Much is dependent on the capabilities of the teachers, and on the ease of interaction.

The iPad is pushed heavily on schools, however it requires an Apple-compatible classroom environment to facilitate the technology. Android tablets are used as an alternative, as the hardware can be customised to the learners’ needs. In India (and elsewhere) the One Laptop Per Child Initiative has developed rugged lightweight computers with a custom Linux-based interface for learners.

One constant problem is the inability for the different platforms to communicate with one another. One must fully invest in a single system. The ground for educational innovation is ripe for development, however, it is limited by school buy-in, and requires some degree of standardisation (likely by government).


  1. 'White-label' refers to products which are intended to be repackaged. For instance, a local supermarket's brand of milk. The supermarket does not own the dairy, but has an arrangement with a dairy (or dairies) to package the milk under the supermarket's name. In software, a package is offered which can be customised to the needs of the client.

License

Publishing in the Digital Environment Copyright © 2013 by Liam Borgstrom (ed.). All Rights Reserved.