In the week beginning 16 March 2020, teachers had less than a week to prepare to deliver remote learning for the foreseeable future. Those teachers that were not already au fait with applications, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom or SeeSaw, were about to be thrown into them headfirst. Most teachers use a blend of digital and printed resources in the classroom – ease of use of printed textbooks, lack of technological infrastructure and budget restrictions along with varying teacher knowledge and confidence means that the march towards digital technologies in education has actually been more of a stumble, particularly compared to other sectors.
I interviewed Rosie Howie, a publisher at Hodder Gibson, to find out a publisher’s perspective on school closures and how they have affected their delivery of resources:
“As you might imagine, school closures have had a huge impact on the education sector and have really affected how our resources can be accessed. That was coupled with the rest of the book supply chain of bookshops, distributors and even online retailers (though Amazon re-prioritised educational books after an initial pause) shutting down with little to no notice. So, getting physical resources to schools, teachers and students became extremely tricky and slow initially.”
And physical resources were still required. A huge number of pupils have either just a phone or zero devices at home or lack the internet, and therefore no way of accessing any of these live lessons or resources teachers were now delivering. The Scottish government has said it would spend “£9 million on 25,000 laptops and tablets and upgrading internet for pupils who were unable to access technology to work from home.” Pupil Equity Funding (PEF), aimed at closing the poverty-related attainment gap in Scotland, has been utilised by many schools in the past months to secure more digital resources and technology. However, the majority of pupils now required solely digital resources.
Rosie Howie shares how her team responded to this need:
“We immediately pivoted our priorities and resources to ensure that we could provide electronic versions of our resources to teachers and students. All Hodder Gibson books (apart from a few School Editions where we don’t hold electronic rights) are all available as e-books through e-retailers, but these are hard for schools to access as they require individuals to purchase. As such, we also offer Student and Whiteboard e-textbooks which schools can buy licences to in bulk and allocate out to students. Before school closures, we did not have any Student e-textbooks available for the newly acquired TeeJay Maths list or our How to Pass revision range, so we immediately set about converting those.
We offered free access to the Student e-Textbooks to schools who had bought print copies – so that they could continue to use their resources during the school closures.
For English, where we have a big list of resources, we created and distributed a free summer term support pack.”
Normally, education publishers have regional educational field reps. They are usually in schools every day and are now, like many, working from home.
“That was a big change, and they saw a big change in the way they interacted with teachers and schools: now all remotely.
Similarly, our research activities were altered: we were unable to run any in-person research (focus groups, school visits etc.) and we had to re-work our virtual research plans to compensate whilst also being mindful of the timing of these around new and evolving pressures faced by teachers and students.”
This period has affected future plans for the business, too.
“It has certainly brought the importance of digital products into sharp focus and has led us to review our decision on revision resources: our future plan is now to automatically create Student e-Textbooks for these as well as the core. We have continued to work on digital products and our sister company, RS Assessment, brought forward the publication of Shine by 6 months, to September 2020, to help those pupils who’ve fallen behind.”
Furthermore, Hodder Gibson recently acquired TeeJay Maths, the textbook series the majority of Scottish primary and secondary schools use, intending to digitise and expand the range. They have moved the project forward to digitise their list by four months (from August to April).
“Digital resources have a whole host of benefits, and this period of school closures has, I’m sure, converted many sceptics to more digital-led ways of learning.
That being said, the current circumstances also show the benefits of printed resources. There are equity and access issues which remain in place with digital which are less acute with print. Print books do not require internet access; they do not require access to a device, and they don’t need to be shared amongst family members.
We are currently in the business of providing both print and digital resources and can see the merits and benefits of that model going forwards. Looking ahead, we’d like to enhance our digital offer to make the most of the benefits of digital learning spaces, but we haven’t reached a point where print is not a viable and preferred option for many.”
Education publishing might not be the first place a publishing hopeful looks towards for their future career, but it has all the roles of the other sectors, and you can be part of supporting teachers and future generations. Now is an as exciting time as ever to break into this sector, particularly if you are a digital native who has got what it takes to be a part of its current rapid innovation.
Hodder Gibson Resources Mentioned In The Article
English Summer Term Support Pack: