The Direct Network

Simplifying Digital Content: New Developments in the World of Course Materials

Posted by Joe Clarkin on Apr 27, 2016 4:00:00 AM
Topics: digital content, Higher Ed, K-12

The types of course materials used in the classroom is constantly evolving. The primary trend right now is the implementation of more digital content options  something that makes sense in an increasingly digital world. In this video from Senior Digital Consultant Carrie Watkins, learn what you need to know about these new developments, as well as what types of options are at your disposal and where you can find them!


Unable to watch the video? Here's a transcript.

How OER Are Impacting Education


Thank you for joining us for our webinar today on Simplifying Digital Content: New Developments in the World of Course Materials. My name is Carrie Watkins and I'm the Senior Digital Consultant with MBS Direct. That just means I get to work with our partner schools who are looking at different types of content, maybe getting away from the traditional print textbook. Perhaps they've launched a 1:1 program or some sort of device strategy and want to look at the content that would make the best use of those devices. I help them understand what those different types of content are and what might be the best way to use those different types of content in their curriculum.

If you've been in education for longer than 5 minutes, you've probably noticed that things change fast around here, and educational content is no different. Over the past decade, we've moved from large publishers creating and distributing the content to a more flexible model, one with options that fit just about any type of classroom. Today, we're going to talk about those options. We're going to talk about them in a little bit more detail and then get to how MBS Direct is helping make it a little bit easier to pull all of those together, to corral all of those different options. We'll start the conversation with eBooks, the product that most people know at least a little bit about. We'll touch on other publisher-created products usually delivered through access codes. Publishers are really focused on making their content a lot more dynamic, really taking advantage of the devices that the students have and that are in these classrooms. There are some really interesting platforms and things that publishers are doing with those online coursework platforms that we'll talk about a little bit more.

Then we'll also get to some of the more flexible options, such as coursepacks, open educational resources, and a few other companies that we at MBS Direct are watching and looking at partnerships with that we think are really doing content differently, that are really understanding where things are going and providing a really good option for our partner schools. We'll close the webinar talking about what's new at MBS Direct and what we're doing to help your students access all of these different types of content options without managing a bunch of URLs and confirmation emails.

What is digital content? When I think about the term "digital content," I can't help thinking about Inigo Montoya in the Princess Bride when he looks at Vizzini after Vizzini has said "inconceivable" about 50 million times. He says, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." From eBooks to online courseware to even just static PDFs posted on a website, digital content can mean something different to everyone. Understanding how the different formats work will help you understand which of them will be best for your curriculum.

Like I said, we're going to start with eBooks. I think most people have at least some experience with eBooks. But for this particular discussion, when I talk about eBooks, I'm talking about material that's been commissioned by a publisher. It's been written by a subject matter expert. But most importantly, it's been delivered in an eReader platform. PDFs are fine for a few pages, but no one wants to read a book of academic material as a PDF. With the eReader platform, readers get a number of accessibility tools, learning functionality to help them interact with the material. Any eReader that's worth your time allows the student to take notes, make highlights, and search through the book. If they don't have those capabilities, keep moving.

Other tools that you'll probably run into that are good to have within an eReader include being able to export and share notes so the notes don't just live in the book. The student is able to do things with those notes outside of the eReader. As well as accessibility features for some of those non-traditional students, such as your ESL students, looking at things like text-to-speech and being able to increase and decrease the font size.

Common eReaders that you'll probably run into include VitalSource, RedShelf, Copia, iBooks, Kindle. They're all eReader platforms. As you evaluate which eReader platform to use, make sure you understand which devices it works on and which ones it doesn't. We recommend focusing on an eReader that works across platforms, one that's device-agnostic. Even if your students have a certain device in school, whether you're an iPad school or a Chromebook school. More than likely, your students are going to have other devices, whether that's a phone or a PC at home or some sort of other device that they may be studying on. You want them to be able to access their material whenever and however it makes the most sense for them, whether that's at grandma's house, whether that's at the library, whether that's on their phone on the way to a sports game.

VitalSource is our primary eBook provider and one of the most common academic eReader platforms. This is what the platform looks like. You have your table of contents for easy navigation throughout the book, and a tab specifically for your notes and highlights so you can easily access those at any time. If you never had a chance to check out a VitalSource title, just contact your account manager. We'd be happy to get you set up with a sample copy.

I want to talk a little bit about online courseware. We at MBS Direct have a little bit of a love-hate relationship with publisher courseware. As I mentioned before, publishers are really doing some innovative things with their online portals. On the other hand, all the portals are different. Publishers often have several different portals depending on the different title and series. Most of them require some sort of setup prior to class, where the teacher will have to get in and upload a roster. While access codes really do often give students access to a lot of really great supplemental materials and interesting content, they probably aren't best for teachers that may be technology-averse.

These publisher portals, like I said, provide access to a number of different resources for students, including multimedia supplements, videos, assessments, additional study help. Some of them even come with a copy of the textbook, usually provided in a proprietary eReader that the publisher has put together. Some of the cool things that we've seen publishers do with these portals ... There's one out there that provides an online lab environment where you actually get to work with a microscope. We have one publisher that has created material that is already highlighted with the key topics that the student might want to learn. Then as the student takes the quizzes within the platform, the highlights change based on what the student needs to learn and what needs a little bit more practice on.

Some examples of publisher courseware that you might see or maybe you have adopted already. They include Pearson's MyLabs, McGraw-Hill's Connect, Cengage's MindTap, and HMH's My HRW and Think Central, among others. This is just a quick screenshot of the landing page from the HMH literature series in My HRW. As you can see, there's a lot of resources here for the teacher to use as part of their classroom, including some videos, project ideas, and other types of assessments as well.

Open educational resources ... There's a lot of buzz around OERs. The great thing about OER is that there's a plethora of materials on any subject you can think of. Anything you want to learn about, there's probably some open content available out there. The frustrating thing about OERs is that there's a plethora of materials on any subject you can possibly think of, some of them written by subject matter experts, some of them written by people who just think they're subject matter experts. Curating the different material from this various sites can be overwhelming. Then managing those URLs throughout the term, also very time consuming. Because websites get updated, URLs break, and you're going to have to be the one to manage that for your students.

There are a number of great repositories out there that can cut down on some of that search, such as MERLOT, MIT OpenCourseWare. You can also use the Creative Commons licensing structure to know the material that you want to use can be used the way you want to use it. You can just go to in order to see those different licenses and what they mean.

We've seen a really interesting shift over the past few years when it comes to open educational resources. When the idea of OERs first started gaining traction, there weren't a lot of alternatives to the expensive traditional print textbook. A number of companies have now filled that space for low-cost but still very high-quality options. Still saving students significant money on their course materials, but also providing that high-quality and easily accessible, easily curated material that instructors need as well.

One of those options is coursepacks. Coursepacks have been around forever, but there's a lot of new tools out there to really help faculty members use coursepacks to the best of their ability. Coursepacks allow teachers, like I said, to create something that still looks and feels like a textbook. But it only has the material that's relevant to how that particular teacher teaches that particular subject. No more purchasing a textbook for 3 chapters that hit the nail right on the head, but then 7 chapters that don't even apply to that particular course. This is also a great way to mix free and open material with commercial content. Some public domain material, some primary source documents with some really great journal articles or a textbook chapter that really covers the material the way that you as a faculty member would want it. These coursepacks give the instructor more control over the cost of the material as well. If a journal article is going to raise the cost of the coursepack by $30, the teacher can decide beforehand to make a copy available in the library or maybe just find a different journal article that covers the same material.

Similar to curating open educational resources, finding the right material for a coursepack can also be daunting. With eText Builder from MBS Direct, faculty can search through a repository of textbooks, journal articles, case studies, even public domain material to put together their coursepack. All the material that's in this repository has been pre-cleared so the teacher knows as they build the coursepack how much it's going to cost their student. If you're at all interested in the eText Builder platform, just let your account manager know. We can get you a link to that platform where you can play around and maybe build a coursepack or two.

I do want to talk a little bit about other digital content. We know that great academic content doesn't always look like a textbook. It can be a video. It can be a game. It can be an interactive activity. That's why we're constantly on the lookout for companies doing really interesting things with content. From modular content you can rearrange and customize to fit your needs, like with Boundless, to online courses that supplement a flipped learning environment, like Pluralsight or Mizzou K-12 online. MBS Direct has partnerships with a lot of companies that are really looking at content differently and the best way to put that material in front of your students.

Imagine having to manage all of these different platforms for your students. Now, before you have a panic attack, I want to talk about our digital content shelf. One of the biggest concerns we hear from schools is how to make it easy for students to access all of this great material. Students are busy. They forget their passwords. Their email inboxes have little cobwebs in the corners. How can we make it easy for them to access all of their content, regardless of the platform?

The digital content shelf is part of the online bookstore. It is a single point of purchase for the students, as well as a single point of access. It is a launching point for their digital content, from eBooks to iBooks to publisher courseware to coursepacks, as long as it was purchased through the MBS Direct online bookstore, it will show up on the digital content shelf. The student can see the thumbnail of the cover or the identifier of the courseware platform. They can also see the date that the material was purchased, and they'll have a button to access their content. If the material is an access code, they can click to reveal the code. The site will prompt the student to make sure that they know, the student knows once they reveal the code, it cannot be returned. If the material is an access code that the teacher provides, it will link them to the platform that the student can enter the code that they then receive from the teacher. If the material is an eBook, it will launch in the eReader platform of that particular eBook. The student will be prompted to login to the eReader platform for the first time, but after that, it will launch directly into the book.

With the ubiquity of learning management systems, many schools are looking to bring all of the academic content into the LMS. MBS Direct can help with that too. Using LTI integrations, we can load the digital content shelf directly into your LMS. This is a screenshot of the digital content shelf embedded into Canvas. If this is something that you'd like to have at your school, just contact your account manager and we can walk you through that process.

With all the great partnerships we have, I want to make sure we hit on some of the publishers that also provide great digital content. We work with hundreds of publishers. Some of our most popular digital titles do come from the big 3, McGraw-Hill, Cengage, and Pearson. But we also have very popular digital titles from Ave Marie Press, HMH, and Jones & Bartlett. If your school is focused on keeping the cost to student low, we do have a number of publishers that provide great options under $40. OpenStax is a well known option for schools, providing low- or no-cost textbooks to students. We're also working with Lorenz Educational Press, Kendall Hunt, and HMH to provide discounts to our partners for their digital content. New players in the market, such as zyBooks, Flat World Knowledge, and Boundless, Junction. They all have a number of great, low-cost options for schools.

That is our overview of digital content options and how MBS Direct is working to simplify this for schools and students. If you have any questions or need any other information about any of the products we've discussed, please don't hesitate to reach out to me, Carrie Watkins, or Kelly Jones, our Director of Client Services if you have any other questions. Thank you and have a great day!

About Joe Clarkin

Joe Clarkin is a former copywriter at MBS. When he’s not working or studying, you’re most likely to find him reading a book or watching a game.

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