Textbook publishers add online tools to win over professors

For much of his career as a professor of physics at Chabot College, Scott Hildreth struggled to figure out which concepts he should try to reinforce in his lecture. “Now, it’s totally different,” Hildreth says. “I literally spend my time now tuning my delivery for each class according to so much more information.” What changed, USA Today reports, was that Hildreth started instructing his students to do their homework online through a suite of “Mastering” tools from Pearson, which the publishing giant is marketing alongside its textbooks. Not only does the software tell Hildreth which problems students are getting wrong, it tells him why they are getting them wrong, so he can tailor his class sessions to reinforce certain concepts accordingly. It also relieves him of the burden of grading homework for dozens of students. While some professors are leery of automatic grading, Hildreth believes it has made him more efficient, and therefore effective. “It totally, for me, has changed the dynamic of teaching,” Hildreth says. “I feel like I’m a much better teacher now.” Over the last two decades, such software has gone from a pet experiment for computer-savvy professors on a handful of campuses to a must-have for textbook publishers who wish to stay competitive. Other major publishers, such as Cengage, W.H. Freeman, and McGraw-Hill, have developed similar add-ons that they now offer in hopes of persuading professors to adopt their textbooks. Still other companies have partnered with WebAssign, a company that produces online questions, exercises, simulations, and other e-tutoring complements to textbooks from a variety of publishers…

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Textbook firms ink e-deals for iPad

Major textbook publishers have struck deals with software company ScrollMotion Inc. to adapt their textbooks for the electronic page, as the industry embraces a hope that digital devices such as Apple‘s iPad will transform the classroom, reports the Wall Street Journal. The publishers are tapping the know-how of ScrollMotion to develop textbook applications and test-prep and study guides for the iPad. “People have been talking about the impact of technology on education for 25 years. It feels like it is really going to happen in 2010,” said Rik Kranenburg, group president of higher education for the education unit of McGraw-Hill Cos. and one of the publishers involved in the project. Other publishers include Houghton Mifflin Harcourt K-12, Pearson PLC’s Pearson Education, and Washington Post Co.’s Kaplan Inc., known for its test-prep and study guides. Many developers and publishers are working on applications that will work on the iPad and other digital devices. Maureen McMahon, president of Kaplan Publishing, said a recent Kaplan study showed that students remain big fans of printed books but that they would be more receptive to e-textbooks on portable digital devices. Whether the iPad will be the digital device to transform the classroom remains to be seen. “Nobody knows what device will take off, or which ‘killer app’ will drive student adaptations. Today they aren’t reading e-textbooks on their laptops. But ahead we see all kinds of new instruction materials,” said Kranenburg…

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