Transcript: Education, the Universe & Everything

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An interview with Bruce Spatz

Recorded at the Textbook & Academic Authors Association 2013 Conference

For podcast release Monday, July 15, 2013

KENNEALLY: “Education, Pirates and the Expanding Universe” was the comprehensive subject for the keynote address this morning at the annual conference of the Text and Academic Authors Association held in Reno, Nevada, and giving that talk was Bruce Spatz, Vice President for Strategic Development, Global Education at John Wiley & Sons. He joins me now for Beyond the Book. Bruce, welcome to Beyond the Book.

SPATZ: Thank you very much for inviting me.

KENNEALLY: It was a pleasure to listen to what you had to say this morning – a receptive audience – an audience of textbook authors and academics otherwise. You began by speaking to the point that an organization that’s been around for nearly 30 years has to reckon with the fact that when it was named, what it meant to be an author, what it meant to have a textbook was something quite different than today. Can you reflect a little further on that? There’s been a lot of change in that time but really, textbooks and authors – we have to accept that this is a new world.

SPATZ: The textbook used to be the whole course. An instructor could get a textbook that had a table of contents that was the course structure. It had assessment. Publishers began offering other additional ancillaries. The preface described how to use it, and you could teach your whole course from it. It’s not the case anymore because students come in with different levels of abilities. They have different needs, and the pressure is on institutions and on instructors to be productive is greatly different, let alone the scrutiny on reporting and outcomes that’s now being asked for.

KENNEALLY: And that all drives publishers to rethink the product that they have. And another point you made, which I thought was also very intriguing, was that no matter how far back you look – and John Wiley & Sons has been around since the days of Jefferson and Melville – that the publishing activity was never about books. Well, if it’s not about books, what’s it about and what does that mean in 2013?

SPATZ: Well, I think it’s about ideas and it’s about the role that publishers and authors play in educating a global community for the information and learning that’s needed for the future. It’s changing all over. The amount of pressure on development in places like India or Asia or Brazil – at Brazil, they have campuses that have 100,000 students. This is not something that can be addressed by just manufacturing more copies of books.

KENNEALLY: I guess the other part of this is about the book itself. So if publishers aren’t about books, nevertheless what they’ve done for so many years, what they continue to do, is to print books – not just print books, of course, but develop them, work with the authors, the designers – all the various parts of the process have to be well run and efficient for that textbook to appear. Does the book as a format hold back the mission, if I can call it that, to propagate ideas?

SPATZ: Our view at Wiley has been that we’re building workflow solutions. We call it the teaching and learning activity cycle, of which the book and the content in the book plays a core part, but there’s a greater contribution to be made. Publishers can’t do that on their own, and part of my remarks today were to encourage the authors to think about how they approach their next writing project in a different way.

KENNEALLY: What does that mean? So give us a little more detail. If I were an author of a textbook, what are the kinds of things I need to be thinking about? Are we speaking here about multimedia, for example, or is it a lot more than that?

SPATZ: I think the mindset that somebody has when they sit down to create a thousand-page work is different than if they sit down with a different mindset. The sort of thing that we need to do in publishing, and in education generally, is make content and information and learning tools in a more easily configurable, customizable way, so that learning can be individual and personal. Books can only go a certain part of the way to do that, but an author still has the tools that are necessary to anticipate what a student needs to know, what they’re likely to be coming in with in terms of experience, how they will have trouble with some concepts and not with others, and how certain students have trouble with some concepts and others do not.

All of that can be applied to a new way of thinking. What I was recommending today was that the future of the textbook, at least in many course areas, is likely an online course. So an author still has to go about the same things, but I believe their role changes to one of curation, rather than just creation.

KENNEALLY: And that’s interesting because, of course, curation involves material that is created by others, as well as the material they’re going to create themselves. Are you seeing more of that occur, where textbook authors are going out into the world of media to what’s available online or otherwise in digital form and drawing on that, as well as their own original work?

SPATZ: I think it’s been done to some extent. Authors have been incorporating web links into their publications and websites for some time, but I think it needs to be more than that. The diversity that is inherent in the educational system I think makes it unlikely that a single author can address all of the needs in a single course area for the whole world. So it just seems practical to me that the author’s role as being the expert in synthesizing could include contributions from others. At Wiley, we actually are working on a project with Open Stacks, where we’re creating additional resources, assessment, and learning environment through Wiley Plus that will accompany an open educational resource text that’s not authored by Wiley.

KENNEALLY: I think I’ve seen some announcements about that recently. Tell us briefly then what Open Stacks is trying to do.

SPATZ: Well, they’re an organization that’s driving a lot of the activity in OER as we call it – open educational resources – with an interest in creating alternative text materials that are low cost or free, and I’m not sure exactly how many they tend to do in each model, but again, for many of the reasons that I’ve been saying, they are making a textbook. It’s a digital textbook. They’re also doing it in print, I believe, but they’re not doing everything else, and that’s a lot of what we, as a publisher, have been involved with for the last 10 years – understanding what are the other elements of the workflow.

So I see a time where Wiley could be producing products that don’t have any of our own content, and I think for authors, one of the things that I recommended today was that much of their contribution could be on evaluation rubrics of things that are not quantitative assessment. For example, how to understand somebody’s contribution to a threaded discussion when all of the action is going on online. Do you give some kind of points for original submissions? Do you evaluate things based on the level of language that students are using or some thinking at a higher level than others? Those are things that online education hasn’t addressed.

KENNEALLY: We are talking right now with Bruce Spatz, who is Vice President for Strategic Development, Global Education with John Wiley & Sons. This is Chris Kenneally for Copyright Clearance Center’s pod case series. And Bruce, you mentioned something which intrigued me, and I want to kind of turn this around because as much as we talk about digital publishing, the role and the importance of print remains and there have been some recent surveys that show that the adoption of i-textbooks, I’ll call them, has not gone at the pace that some expected. Besides that, though, print remains in a core part of the business. So if you could speak to that, and then I wonder also if we could explore how innovations in digital publishing are turning around and helping drive innovation in print. But the first part of that is the importance that print continues to have in the Wiley business and, indeed, in all of textbooks.

SPATZ: I don’t think we actually understand the role that print is going to be playing in education. There’s this strange artifact of a textbook now that in a typical undergraduate course in the sciences or math has 30% of its 1,000 pages in problem statements. Now, most students are only going to read a few of those any week. They will read the text. On the other hand, instructors typically don’t read the text, but they like to look at all of the problem sets. So there’s a tremendous inefficiency in creating one thing for everybody, which made sense some time ago for the economies of scale, but there has to be a better way to model that, and I think one of the peculiarities is that you see that students often say they prefer print when they’re asked do they prefer print or digital, but they’re never asked what kind of digital they prefer or what kind of experience they would need.

So I think that the job that we have as publishers is to understand more of the whole sequence of the workflow and print could be a part of that. In some areas, print might be the most efficient thing to do entirely. There are some course areas that don’t lend themselves to needing a lot of intensive media.

KENNEALLY: So for Wiley, what are the proportions at the moment for digital and print in textbook publishing? We are doing all of our titles in print, and all of our titles as e-books, and about 40% of our titles as online courses. We have an increasing amount of sales revenue that comes from the digital-only products – just the e-books, especially in institutional sales with the for-profits and other large organizations, and also with our online courses – and that’s increasing – so that I could see a point where we would be getting to 30% or 40% digital soon. It’s unlikely that we will ever eliminate print entirely, nor is that a particular goal that we have, but the ability to actually fulfill our mission – the mission statement that we have in global education is to help teachers teach and students to learn. That’s been our mission statement for about 30 years and it doesn’t say anything about books.

KENNEALLY: It’s fascinating. So we will have books but they just won’t look like the books that I had in college on my bookshelf, if I understand what you’re saying. They will contain different materials than I would have expected from a textbook because they expectations of students have changed.

SPATZ: Yes, that’s my perspective anyway. The kinds of things that a student might want to do with print would be viewed differently if you assume that they’re starting with a digital experience. I think you could just flip it around entirely, offer them an online course, and then have them decide what they want to print, but the whole idea of printing in that context assumes that you’re still doing things that are relatively similar to page replicas, and that’s what I think is going to change in online courses, but there’s a whole range of topics and course areas, especially at the advanced level where books are quite sufficient for what the needs of the teacher and the student area.

KENNEALLY: Let’s sort of enter the realm of pure speculation right now. If things are going in the direction that you suggest they are and this personalization is one of the most important aspects of it, how does a professor assign what I’ll call homework in that context because what I’m looking for as a student would be different than what Bruce Spatz would be looking for?

SPATZ: If the instructor approaches their large course with the idea that everybody is the same, they probably aren’t making good assignments now. Already it’s a case that whether it’s something simple, like an instructor coming in to work, having somebody come in and say I’d like to have an office hour with you. That’s already a personal side of learning. Instructors can answer questions and go online and do email. There are all kinds of ways in which they’re already personalizing the experience. I think the tools that we can give to students and instructors will enable the instructor enough visibility into each of the students that they could even make assignments that were specific to individuals.

KENNEALLY: Well, thank you Bruce Spatz. He is the Vice President for Strategic Development, Global Education, John Wiley & Sons and gave the keynote address this morning at the annual conference of the Text and Academic Authors Association. Bruce, thanks for joining me on Beyond the Book.

SPATZ: Thank you for having me.

KENNEALLY: Copyright Clearance Center is the producer of Beyond the Book. Copyright Clearance Center is a global rights broker for the world’s most sought after materials, including millions of books and e-books, journals, newspapers, magazines, and blogs, as well as images, movies, and television shows. You could follow us on Twitter, find Beyond the Book on Facebook, and subscribe to the free podcast series on iTunes or at the Copyright Clearance Center website copyright.com. Just click on Beyond the Book. Our engineer is Jeremy Brieske of Burst Marketing. My name is Christopher Kenneally. For all of us at Copyright Clearance Center, thanks for listening to Beyond the Book.