The Digital Marketplace for K–12 schools is changing. Carrie Watkins, senior digital consultant, shares how MBS Direct can help school navigate their way through the digital world.
How has the digital market changed?
It’s been interesting to watch the digital evolution, especially in the K–12 space because when the iPad® launched seven years ago many of our partners jumped on that and said we can do everything with this thing. They started to push publishers to come out with more digital content. At that time, there really wasn’t much in the space. As schools got more digital technology in the hands of the students and students had the ability to do more within the classroom on those devices, the publishers responded with more tools in terms of the content.
What kind of digital materials does MBS Direct offer K–12 school?
We do provide a lot of options in the K–12 space from traditional ebooks, which still feels comfortable like a traditional textbook, all the way to teachers being able to align the content to what they are trying to do in the classroom. We have your traditional ebook through VitalSource or iBooks, and a lot of the traditional publishers provide online courseware that has interactive materials for the student to work within the content so it’s not just words on the page: videos, assessments and things like that. In the last couple years, we’ve seen a lot of alternative publishers coming up because they recognize the opportunity to make materials more engaging at a lower cost on these devices. We have a lot of alternative partners focused on being able to customize the content. These newer publishers, especially with open educational resources, have a lot of flexibility with what can be done with the platform that is already there.
Are more partner schools using iPad or Google?
For a long time, Apple® was the big player. The iPad was a lot less expensive for students than traditional laptops. It opened up the one-to-one idea. Now that that door has been opened, other players have walked through. Not only do you have the iPad® and iPad mini™ to cut costs but Google Chromebooks have really stepped up, and you have a full range: high-end to basic which are great for students who still need to learn how to work with these devices. Then, of course, Microsoft came out with their Surface, and we are seeing a lot more schools move to those as well. They are more of a hybrid where you have the keyboard for typing and long form writing as well as a tablet that does a lot of the things you would want a tablet to do such as apps, a camera and the other things that bring that technology into the classroom.
What sets MBS Direct apart from other companies?
MBS Direct has always done a lot of things very well. We have great relationships with publishers, which enable us to get the materials that schools want. More than that is the customer service, which goes into the digital products that we are working with. We have people on our staff who help faculty understand what the catalog is like and what options are out there. We walk them through what they are trying to do so they can get the content that meets their expectations. Once they’ve chosen a particular platform or content type, we have people who can help them implement it. Access codes have a lot of great opportunities and resources, and publishers are constantly trying to do new things with them. They don’t always work the way we want so we’ve got people on staff who really understand them and can help faculty work through that or work with publishers on the customer’s behalf. And, of course, we have our call center that has an eContent team specifically for those digital options. We know they can be kind of confusing, so we really help the faculty and students understand the opportunities and how to take full advantage of those.
What kind of changes have taken place in the industry?
We’ve talked a little bit about the different types of devices that are in students’ hands, and I think over the last couple years it’s been really interesting to see the shift from “Oh great, we have an iPad. We should use it,” to “What are we really trying to do in the classroom to help students be more engaged and have real world applications for what they are learning?” The technology is becoming much more seamless and invisible. It is a tool. It’s really interesting to see that shift back to what are the goals of the classroom.
What’s on the horizon?
Faculty are becoming empowered to have more control over the content, and I think that’s very specific to private schools at the moment. They have more control and academic freedom. We are starting to see faculty become more empowered because of the great content that is out there in terms of open educational resources, what the publishers are coming out with, and the opportunities to truly customize and make sure that the material is imparting what teachers want their students to come away with. Plus, teachers are seeing their classrooms differently.
They are looking at how they can bring in more student agency, so the student has more interest in what they are learning. A teacher might be covering the Civil War, but one student may have more interest in the militia side of it, and another student might be more interested in the political side of it. How can each of those students be engaged and still cover all aspects of the Civil War? Technology is definitely a tool in that, and the teacher can customize the content so there are pieces for all students based on what they are interested in learning. Teachers can further personalize students’ education without devoting another 40 hours a week to it.
How does MBS Direct’s podcast, Trending Topics in Education, convey these changes?
We have all of these great relationships with the content providers and partner schools doing interesting things. We just wanted to share those opportunities with other schools. The podcast allows companies and schools to tell their stories in a way you wouldn’t get from a flyer or case study. It helps them share what fun projects they are doing, or from the content side, explain current topics such as what does adaptive learning really mean and how is it helping students own their learning? The podcast really allows people to hear the whys behind these innovative ideas. It embraces the fact that it’s a fascinating time to be a part of the education world.