Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Since the advent of the iPad, companies like News Corp’s Amplify and start-up Copia have been salivating at the prospect (and profit) of providing schools with technology and digital content.
To give you a sense of how big a market we’re talking about, in just the U.S., nearly $1 trillion was spent on education by the government, according to federal budgets and the Census. Some chunk of that went to content and other learning materials — which are being disrupted and can be replaced by technology…or so is the hope.
Outside of a few limited pilot programs, school districts across the U.S. have yet to adopt tablet-based learning technologies en masse — at least not enough for these companies to realize their huge potential…yet.
Well, according to Ben Lowinger, Copia’s executive vice president, that day is coming soon. Lowinger, who, admittedly, has a stake in this, said we will see a major U.S. school system adopt a one-to-one device ratio for its students and a fully digital education strategy by September 2014. And, according to Lowinger, it will happen in Florida first.
Florida, unlike other states, administers its public schools county-by-county, meaning districts are large, have many thousands of students and have the economic power to test programs and then roll out initiatives uniformly across many schools. According to Wikipedia, Florida often ranks low among states when it comes to educational outcomes for its students. And it “consistently” ranks in the bottom quartile when it comes to spending on students.
Performance that needs improvement, an eye toward spending and large school districts is a perfect recipe for a company like Copia or Amplify to step in and provide digital learning services.
Copia, for instance, completed a pilot in Australia last year among several schools testing its technology. Australia, unlike the U.S., has a common curriculum that every student must learn. (Though in the U.S., we are lurching toward that as a reality with the “common core,” though there are some states still fighting its adoption.) The start-up partnered with many major Australian publishers to make sure all the content teachers and students would need would be available on the technology platform.
According to the company, the pilot was a success, with improved learning outcomes at a cost everyone could live with, and Lowinger told me that Copia will be rolled out among dozens of Australian schools in January of 2014, when the country’s new school year starts.
The challenges facing these educational technology start-ups are daunting. Many schools know they need to continue to add technology to their programs but don’t know what they need and often don’t know where to begin when thinking it through.
Connectivity to the Web in schools is another challenge. According to Lowinger, about two-thirds of New York City schools have internet connectivity that is just about as fast as the dial-up modems from the 1990s.
And, of course, cost is always an issue when it comes to public schools.
Lowinger said that the company’s sell to school districts is that it can help them replace their analog curriculum with a digital one for the same cost or less than they’re spending now. To give you an idea of what the numbers are, the New York City school system spends about $160 million a year on content for its 1.1 million students, Lowinger said.
New York City is one of the school districts actively looking for help in going digital. On or by September 17, companies like Copia will submit proposals to “provide, host, and maintain a secure platform or ‘Storefront’ for DOE that will allow for central procurement, distribution, and management of electronic content across a variety of e-readers, tablets, and other devices in multiple locations,” according to an official request for proposal from the City (see the request below).
Perhaps we’ll know by then how good a chance we have of seeing the mass adoption of digital learning in a major school system by the Septbember 2014 target date.
New York City’s ebooks in the classroom RFP:
RFP TITLE: E-Book Store
RFP NUMBER: R0985
RFP DUE DATE & TIME: *NEW! September 17, 2013 by 1:00 PM
Pre-proposal Conference: April 22, 2013 10:00 AM to 12:00 PM LOCATION: Brooklyn Borough Hall – 209 Joralemon Street, 2nd Floor, Brooklyn, NY 11201
The New York City Department of Education is seeking proposals from companies willing to provide, host, and maintain a secure platform or “Storefront” for DOE that will allow for central procurement, distribution, and management of electronic content across a variety of e-readers, tablets, and other devices in multiple locations. Through the Storefront, teachers or other authorized parties will purchase educational materials for students, including electronic textbooks and related educational software. The selected vendor will either have or will develop relationships with multiple publishers and content producers, so as to provide a wide variety of content. In return for providing the Storefront at no cost to DOE, the vendor will become DOE’s primary provider of electronic textbooks and related educational materials.
Learn more about what students, parents and teachers want when it comes to ebooks in the classroom with Digital Book World’s latest report: Back to School in an E-reading World: Understanding the e-reading habits of children aged 2-13, with a focus on educational ebooks and ebooks in the classroom