A new “digital divide?”

At EdNET 2011 in Denver last week, there was huge energy, many new ideas, great success stories. But one big thing was missing, so big we didn’t notice it at first. Textbook publishers.

One of the school people – curriculum director from a mid-size Georgia district – said it first.  “This is so great, all you people listening to what we need and trying to accommodate.  Why aren’t all my curriculum publishers here?  I’m going to call my [publisher’s name redacted] rep on Monday and tell him they should be at this conference.”

I looked around and thought, “Huh.  She’s right.  The only representatives of the ‘Big 3’ or ‘Big 4′ here are from their tech ghettos – I mean, departments.  With all the changes going on in education, which affect everyone, why isn’t everyone at the same table discussing what to do about them?”

The easy, smug answer would be “Oh, they’re just textbook people – trapped in the old paradigm of selling into adoptions and delivering paper by the boxcar full.  Comes the revolution they’ll be in the dustbin of history.”  But that’s not fair.  Everyone in the industry can see the changes and knows the trends: Millennials’ demand for engaging technology, districts’ need to reduce costs, everyone’s desire for more flexibility and individualization, the explosion of mobile, etc.  There isn’t a publisher of any size that isn’t addressing the “digital textbook” in one way or another.

But is that just the problem?  Schools aren’t asking for a “digital textbook” any more than early buyers of automobiles were looking for a “horseless carriage.”  They’re both contradictions in terms.  “Textbook” inherently carries forward a lot of implications that may or may not be relevant to the challenges facing schools today.  So, in a way, does “curriculum.”

Is that why, with all the good intentions in the world, traditional ed publishers and their “digital” counterparts are, increasingly, talking to each other across a widening chasm?  And if that’s true, which cliff are the schools standing on?  Or are they down in the valley wishing we’d all come down and join them?

Mike Baum Sophia Consulting LLC

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About mhbaumk12

Mike Baum has 40 years of experience with all types of direct marketing, has run several companies, spent 25 years as a consultant in franchising and in K-12 education, and currently helps companies find solutions to growth challenges.
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