Blueprint for a digital publisher
WHILE A handful of Irish schools begin to experiment with ebooks, one of the country’s best-known educational publishers is already deep into its digital transformation.
It would be understandable for an old-fashioned educator to get a little nervous at the idea of a classroom where books have been all but replaced by individual, internet-enabled screens.
But 102-year-old publisher Edco, best known for its printed school books and exam papers, expects to be at the heart of its business in the near future.
The company’s digital path has been a long one, beginning as a modest support tool for students almost a decade ago and ultimately growing into the fully digital catalogue it offers today.
“About 10 years ago we realised there were seeds out there; this whole digital area was beginning to take shape so we’d better start doing something,” says Martina Harford, chief executive of Edco.
That something was a relatively modest support tool for students using Edco’s exam papers for three subjects. E-xamit.iehas since grown to cover 27 subjects and boasts an annual user base of around 50,000, or half of all of those sitting State exams.
From there the company began to build on its offering and, as computers began to become a feature of the classroom (for teachers at least), they developed digital resources to compliment their book-based lessons.
“We now have upwards of 20,000 teachers logging onto that on a daily basis,” says Ms Harford. “The next step then was obviously going to be the pupils.”
This year Edco has made available a collection of 300 second level ebooks, which can be used instead of, or in addition to, the printed equivalent.
They are accessible through a cloud-based platform that Edco itself developed, something which Julie Glennon, sales and marketing manager, says was an important part of getting the offering right.
“We had the opportunity to buy something off-the-shelf: there’s lots of companies internationally that have ereaders and eviewers and we did look at that,” she says. “But that doesn’t give us the flexibility to add features, interact and develop our own unique areas that give us a competitive edge in the market.”
The platform allows students to make notes and highlight passages on their books, but can also embed extra features like videos and interactive elements into the pages.
This has allowed the school books to become a far more enriched resource than was previously available. However, according to Ms Glennon, having tight control of the software brings many other advantages.
For instance its cloud-based nature means students can access their books from different locations, while Edco can also easily update content to ensure it does not suddenly become inaccurate.
“Say a new president is elected in America or we have a new taoiseach, instead of waiting three years for a new print book we can commission authors to write up a document, which is pushed out and students get a notification to say there has been an update.”
One of the most important factors of its design, however, is its platform neutrality. Ms Harford says they decided from early on that it was not their place to dictate how the students access the content.
“One thing that was always in our mind from when we started was that we didn’t expect everyone to be able to buy the most up-to-date device, so from the very start we said we were going to construct it in such a way that no matter what device they had they could use it,” she says.