Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Building a Better Mouse-Trap for Education

Over the course of the last year, the Adam Smith Academy has sought to give students a more entertaining education in the format(s) they desire. With parents and teachers support, we have worked hard to build a better mouse-trap, so to speak, to capture student's interest. And, we could not be more grateful to all that have supported us.

As of late, we have been receiving more than a few emails from teachers asking if it were possible to start talking to publishers to see if they might be willing to partner with the Adam Smith Academy to present their material online, in one or both of our formats (Animated videos for the web and iPod or Audio-Text). So that, they, the teachers, could capture greater student interest in the material.

In response, I have written to teachers explaining that while we have not talked to all textbook publishers, the ones that we have, have never responded favorably. I liken it to the way newspapers use to feel about online community. At first, they wished they'd just go away. Now, they're playing catch-up... and losing.

With this in mind, I thought I would share with you one of our latest experiences. Recently, I wrote about a particular author I enjoyed reading (all names will be withheld), but am unable to post on the site because of copyright issues. Well, interestingly enough, I was contacted by a very nice member of the foundation's outreach team. He read the post. After discussing the author for a bit, we chatted about potential partnership opportunities, in either animation or audio-text form. Both of which could be done in a subscription form, where the foundation could continue to receive revenue from the work.

Well, no sooner had it gone up the ladder, than it came crashing back down.

You see, while the higher-ups felt this would be something that they would "eventually" do, it was not something that they felt they needed to entertain now, since they felt classroom distribution remained "strong."

It was here that, admittedly, I may have lost it. I felt compelled to inform my new, wonderfully nice, outreach friend that his boss is living in the past. In about 4 clicks, I was able to find out that: (1) copies of the book were already available online for free at certain sites, (2) free audio versions of the book were available, (3) a quick Google search found over 48,000 free summaries of the book, and (4) the information contained on all the other sites about the book and the author were far more comprehensive and user-friendly than what the foundation had at its site.

So students could actually read, listen and find out more information faster about the book and the author, before opening the book or visiting the foundation's site. In fact, it might even be recommended. The foundation's site is a gobbledy-gook of too much extraneous information. Weeding your way through the mess to find pertinent information on the book itself, ended in a teaser to buy the book. I hate that.

Not to mention that fact that the numbers that his boss felt were "strong" over the course of the year, could easily be achieved in webpage views in a month. But, I digress.

The point it is: It baffles me when those that have the greatest ability, and sometimes even a sincere desire, to educate our children, don't recognize what's happening around them. "These kids today" are far more tech-friendly and sophisticated than people give them credit for. If you don't work with them, they'll work around you. You should hear some of the stories I've heard about 9-year-olds redesigning teacher's webpages - because they were coded wrong. Or, making suggestions to teachers and parents about the best places to find information. It's amazing. It's gone far beyond letting your kids program the TV, or figure out how to connect the DVD player properly.

Some people say kids have attention span problems. I believe it's actually the opposite. They're frustrated with the ancient tools they're being asked to use by people who don't know something better is out there. And, the people who may have the content they desire, are withholding it. Seems silly to me.

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