Last Wednesday (22/02) during the second #ELTchat of the day, the topic under discussion was: The future of publishing in the ELT industry for teachers and students. The chat was fast-paced and whilst it was ongoing I had the feeling we were tackling loads of issues at the same time. Looking over the tweets it became clear that this was indeed the case, but in general the chat focused on these points:
1) Where does content come from in publishing? Who creates the demand for this content/material?
2) How can content/material be created?
3) Are we talking about coursebooks or resources?
4) What hardware will be involved? What technology is needed? What technological limits may exist?
5) What about costs?
6) What is the teaching, learning and digital book relationship?
7) What does the future hold?
Item 7 in the list was in fact the question which kicked-off our chat, but for the sake of textual clarity, I will leave it to the end as it sort of helps to round things off. I will also add some of my own thoughts and comments based on the ideas discussed during the chat. Hope you all don´t mind this, but this seems to be easier to do this in this manner, rather than just add my own thoughts at the very end.
Where does content come from in publishing? Who creates the demand for this content/material?
One of the very early comments made during the chat was the importance of having included the reference to “students” in our chat statement. The possibility of publishers taking into consideration the needs of learners and teachers was seen as one of the indications of change and perhaps this is a good pointer in terms of the future of publishing in ELT. Some of the points made were:
- Publishers need to ask the right people the right questions to find out what the demands are for published materials. Do publishers carry out any type of market research?
- There was some general doubt as to whether ELT books are actually geared towards teachers’ needs;
- We need to find out from students how they like to access their materials: paper books or ebooks? Are they ready for paperless classrooms, substituted for ebook classrooms?
- Many expressed the idea that a single book hardly ever fits the bill and satisfies the teachers’ every need. In fact @SueAnnan wrote “There is so much material to choose from that it seems capricious to spend money on one particular coursebook.”
- The speed at which information changes means that the content presented in published material requires constant updating. Learners enjoy discussing current events topics, but it is very difficult to deal with this via published material. However, digital publishing may allow for greater flexibility and adaptation if materials are teacher-published;
- Content creation within a digital perspective would allow publishers to hear the needs of Special Educational Needs learners and cater for this niche. Books for SEN learners can´t be too colourful, font size needs to be considered, illustration background, quantity of information on a single page etc.
- It is difficult to find materials/content in today’s published materials which really do cater for memorable contexts;
- The possibility of having a collection of authentic recordings (with no frills) which could be selected by the teacher for listening activities would be ideal.
How can content/material be created?
The points raised here seemed to suggest that we identify two possible groups publishing materials: the teachers themselves self-publishing without the back-up of a large publishing house and well-established publishing houses.
This could allow for:
- more flexible and cheaper (online) content, which would also allow for greater learner motivation, creativity and challenge;
- more democratic authoring possibilities;
- greater possibilities for authors to receive a better financial return based on the work they themselves have developed;
- less dependence on the big publishing houses;
- avoiding copyright issues and sourcing your own material;
- escaping the commercial impositions in the actual content of the materials;
- a reduction in the quality of the material if it weren´t copyedited or proofread. It is important not to underestimate the role of an editor;
- a greater need for independent authors to understand more about marketing.
Well-established publishers publishing
This could mean:
- having the benefit of an editor guiding material production;
- ensuring there is some form of marketing of the product.
Are we talking about coursebooks or resources?
This was perhaps the most hotly debated point and one in which the multiplicity of views, opinions and suggestions perhaps goes to show how in our field, exactly because we are critical thinkers and users or materials, we all like to add our own touch in class and this inevitably means we will favour different approaches towards the use of materials in class. Whilst some of us feel comfortable using coursebooks in their linear entirety or selectively (either in the paper or digital format), others may prefer to use a number of resources (paper-based or online) in class. Some of the ideas were the following:
- If multiple resources were made available online, teachers could select what they would need to use – a sort-of material pick-n-mix;
- However, if these resource/materials/content bank did exist, then there would need to be some sort of consensus in terms of what materials would be used with which levels and groups, there would need to be some sort of structure, a commonly agreed-upon syllabus;
Digital content was specifically mentioned and opinions differed as to their suitability and way of using the material:
- Ebooks may be more suitable as a resource book (especially for teachers) rather than a coursebook;
- As an extension of this point, was that ebooks should not simply be are pdfs of an existing book, but should cater for interactivity;
- With wi-fi and tablets, coursebooks are no longer a necessary element in class;
- Digital materials can be accessed quickly – on demand;
- Material can be accessed and shared via wikis or blogs and this is a way of ensuring material is always up to date;
- The idea of being able to download digital content for a lesson form a site to be used in your lesson appealed to many – a modular book which could even, perhaps, be printed-on-demand;
- But we also flirted with the idea of being able to co-create material collaboratively which could be shared (as is the idea @wetheround) or each one of us creating our own digital book, which would be the final result of the work done over a period of time, rather than a “pre-fabricated” book;
- Yet a potential problem raised with the pick-n-mix idea of content distribution is that less experienced teachers may get lost as to what to select.
What hardware will be involved? What technology is needed? What technological limits may exist?
- Not everyone has internet access, or electricity.
- Not all mobile phones are “smart” yet, but once this changes, the possibilities for digital books changes completely.
- One of the great problems with tablets is the cost. It’s still very expensive for most students and also for a great many teachers. Any shift in ELT publishing towards tablets will inevitably be based on the ease of accessibility to these devices.
- As a solution to this, it was suggested that there would be class sets of tablets. Yet this would mean institutions paying for the hardware.
- On the other hand, it was pointed out that funding for technology is becoming increasingly easier to find. (Though I’m not sure to how many countries this does apply to, especially if language schools are within the private sector.)
- It’s clear that exactly because digital publishing doesn´t have a single platform, the distribution of digital books will vary according to the government policies in different countries as regards downloads and from which distributors (e.g. Amazon Kindle downloads not available in all countries yet).
- Finally @louisealix68 wrote “digital books need better software for those of us who scribble and highlight.” – thought this shows in a lovely way how we ourselves are still grappling with this move from paper to digital.
I may be wrong, but I think that the substantial differences we find in terms of technological accessibility, device availability, the cost of broadband, the lack of government incentives or funding in some countries, government policies which limit accessibility, amongst some of the points made during the chat perhaps suggests that be may be facing a couple of years in which paper-based materials as well as digital materials would still have to run alongside each other.
What about costs?
A number of points were raised about costs and I think that, probably, this was the topic during the chat that most of us were least aware of.
A general view was that ebooks would necessarily allow for cheaper resources and materials. However, some of the points raised attempted to demonstrate that for publishers this may not necessarily be the case. The points made were:
- Different digital content leads to different costs and VAT (which is high for digital material).
- Paper-based material is expensive to produce, but for publishers digital materials actually are equally expensive.
- The costs in publishing do not lie exclusively with manufacturing and distribution costs, as many of us seem to think. With digital publishing there are new costs involved, such as: hosting, delivery, updates, code rights, content rights, the design of the interactive material.
- Costs for pdf books is one thing, for enhanced books it´s another and far more expensive to produce.
- Costs may lower in the near future, but this is not the case at the moment.
What is the teaching, learning and digital book relationship?
As someone who works specifically with teacher development, I have to say that this is one of the key issues for me in this whole debate. Although I do think that in a country like Brazil we don’t really resist technological innovation that much (provided the infrastructure and connectivity is fully operational and people have access to the necessary hardware and software), there can be little doubt that many teachers will not feel entirely comfortable with the advent of ebooks.
We all seemed to agree that learning should be interactive, but what exactly is meant by good interaction and how do we ensure this? Many wrote that the interactivity of ebooks should emerge from the interaction between student and the coursebook, being mediated by the teacher.
We also discussed the potential positive and negative aspects of ebooks being used in classrooms. Considering the motivational factor which ebooks could potentially exercise in class, this was seen as a means of bringing meaningful learning experiences to class, experiences which, as mentioned before, would suit individual needs far better. Yet, the chat made clear that we mustn’t forget the role of the teacher and understanding that the teacher can also promote technological literacy and critical thinking.
If we think that the presentation of content in ebooks can be different from what we have today in paper based material (especially if we are talking about enhanced books), then we also need to imagine that the way we search for new information and content will gradually change. As @jankenb2 wrote “The net is the 1st stop for knowledge and how many go deeper than the 3rd hit on Google.” As I see it, swiping your finger across a touch screen has the amazing benefit of allowing us to access information and text very quickly, but it also fosters the possibility of the superficial decoding of what is in front of us on the screen. We need to build in time and create tasks which ensure that we do foster critical thinking in class. Yes, there is no doubt that if the future of publishing lies in the advent of ebooks, enhanced or not, in the ELT classroom, it will bring about a change in the way we use materials as teachers.
Chat participants were also clear that need for good teachers still remains paramount.
What does the future of publishing in ELT hold for teachers and students?
Despite starting with this question, few direct answers were provided initially. Yet throughout the chat we somehow or other veered towards this question, trying to grapple with the complexity of the whole situation. A myriad of views were expressed. We had tweets expressing a more techno-sceptic stance, doubting digital publishing possibilities, seeing the fickle and gimmicky nature of technology, unable to produce empirical research evidence that technology does all it is touted to do in an education scenario.
We then seemed to drift into a nostalgic frame of mind, sharing “our love for” and “allegiance to” paper books. And following this cathartic expression, we began considering the relevance of paper-based publishing and the emergence of digital publishing, in its many formats. The suggestion emerged that maybe the changes may lie in the way a book is conceptualized, in the possibility of allowing for more personalized and tailor-made content, rather than more generic publications. As @theteacherjames wrote, “Screens might get bigger, books might get smaller, content can change, consumption can change”. However, it is almost an impossible task to anticipate today tomorrow’s technological trend.
The point about change in the format of book consumption also led to a reflection on the ease and speed with which content and materials can be self-published. Yet this also prompted colleagues to highlight that there are differing policies world wide concerning digital publishing and accessibility to digital content.
Some of the ideas and thoughts expressed went like this:
- Beginning to see the first indications of the changes that might come, but difficult to predict exactly what the future holds.
- The change to digital books will come in waves.
- The limitation to adoption rests largely in a limitation in our own profession. Though initiatives like 52 show that maybe teachers are gearing up to this.
- We begin seeing some teacher-led initiatives for sharing digital resources.
- Students are still more comfortable with paper books. But maybe a younger generation will bring this change with them.
- But we ourselves may be more comfortable with paper books.
- Paper books will always be around, like scrolls & stone tablets. But what of their utility?
- But maybe it’s a question of personal choice: some prefer paper books, other digital books.
The differing viewpoints possibly shows how many more discussions such as this one we need to engage in. Not that we all need to think in the same manner, but it certainly shows the uncertainties we face as teachers. As @Marisa_C pointed out: “So it looks like most of us are thinking that digital is the future but not everyone getting there at the same time”. That´s right, we need more time to read, think and discuss things again.
Interesting links to follow up:
Below are some articles I’ve read recently (some are written by those in the industry itself so might be slightly tendentious, but it does give us an overview of things).
To understand fully what an enhanced book is about, interesting to read & watch this: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204468004577169001135659954.html
But to see the idea of enhanced books through the eyes of a publishing house that aims at a coursebook/textbook market which can be customized by the teacher, take a look at this:
and check their site by the way, I’m not plugging a particular Publisher, so if you know any other examples, please leave a comment and share your link): http://dynamicbooks.com/
On why digital books can cost so much to produce: http://michaelhyatt.com/why-do-ebooks-cost-so-much.html
I always follow latest trends in digital publishing through this site: Digital Book World. This is an interesting interview on the changing nature of publishing and books with the advent of digital book publishing: http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2012/digital-changing-very-nature-of-the-book-itself/
Although this article is from 2010, I think it does explain some of the issues involved in pricing digital materials: http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/2010/07/28/delusions-illusions-and-the-costs-of-digital-publishing/