Sunday, July 07, 2013

MediaWeek (V7, N27): Childrens Books, Kodak Moment, Education Technology, Cengage Pricing +More

The Atlantic magazine goes along to the New York Public library to review an exhibit there on Children's books (Atlantic):
The exhibit also reveals that the books that matter to children are not always the same as the ones adults think should matter. Marcus cites Edward Stratemeyer, the turn-of-the-century author and entrepreneur who launched The Bobbsey Twins, The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and other commercial favorites. An adulatory 1934 profile in Fortune magazine said that children's book publishing had been a sleepy backwater until Stratemeyer proved it could be big business, "and he did so by publishing book after book that the critics of the day thought mediocre but that children loved," Marcus says. Likewise, The Poky Little Puppy, which is on view, was one of the original 1942 Little Golden Books that the librarians of the day thought were not artistic enough to be worthy of children—but that kids loved anyway.

The genre has come a long way over four centuries. "Early children's books tended to be solemn and purposeful," Marcus says. "They were created to teach a moral lesson of some kind and they spoke to the child from on high. This approach worked well enough for groups with a fundamentalist view of life—the Puritans for instance—and with certain basic lessons that needed to be communicated as early as possible. But other kinds of books for children began to appear by the mid-1700s. Under the influence of John Locke and his observations about how children learn and grow, this new kind of children's book showed a greater awareness of children's interests and capabilities."
Another look at the fall of Kodak from Kenny Suleimanagich reporting in Medium:
Analysts have pointed to a number of factors in Kodak’s fall, from general mismanagement to poor financial decisions. Its divestiture of Eastman Chemical stripped billions in cash flow that might have propped it up as it struggled to make the transition to digital. Others point to antitrust suits that hampered the company for decades and opened the door to rivals. Some of those, notably Fuji, were able to manage the analog-to-digital conversion successfully.

To the people in the trenches, like DeMoulin, the failure always comes back to the same key error: Kodak, they say, suffered from a fundamental breakdown between, on one side the engineers and tinkerers — many of whom saw the digital future clearly and fought to bring it forth — and on the other the top management, whose interest remained fixed on molecules and the miracle of near-monopoly profits.

DeMoulin told me about watching a team in 1980 demonstrate a scanner-printer that converted film images to digital. “That’s when I thought: This digital thing is going to happen,” he recalls. His place at the helm of the professional-imaging division allowed him to autonomously invest in developing a digital still camera, and he says he pursued that vision, despite lukewarm support from the company.
The Economist takes a look at how technology is disrupting education (Economist):
The main reason for optimism, though, is the evidence coming in from classrooms. Adoption of education technology in America’s state-funded schools was given a boost by a requirement to measure pupil performance in the No Child Left Behind Act, signed by George W. Bush. Online learning was first picked up in some surprising places, including rural Idaho, where schools were looking for ways to expand the limited curriculums they were able to offer. Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative gave a further shove, making billions of dollars available to states willing to innovate. At the beginning of June his administration announced a plan to give 99% of America’s students access to high-speed internet within five years.

Those schools that have pressed on have done rather well. Rocketship, a chain of seven charter schools in San Jose, California, blends traditional teaching with at least an hour a day of individualised online instruction in mathematics, literacy and comprehension. Its low-income pupils outperform those living in the wealthiest districts in the state. Over on the east coast Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Mooresville graded school district in North Carolina, introduced personalised learning on laptops for all pupils aged ten and over in 2009. His district is now one of the state’s leading performers, despite being close to the bottom in funding per pupil. Between 2009 and 2012 the share of its pupils considered proficient in maths, science and reading rose from 73% to 88%.
The Chronicle of Higher Education covers the Cengage bankruptcy but in the comments was this from "Fyzprof" on textbook pricing (Chron):
See the article by Peter Roll, "Introductory Physics Textbooks", Physics Today, Jan. 1968, p. 63. The article lists 50 texts, ranging in price from $5.50 to $14.75 in 1968. This translates to roughly $36 - $100 in 2013 dollars, according to an online calculator that uses the Consumer Price Index. Since this is the high end of the "trade book" range, I would consider it reasonable for textbooks.

In the 1960's, science and math books tended to be more expensive than texts in other fields due to the complex manual typesetting of equations and diagrams. Everything is electronic today, so I don't know why the prices are still so high. A Cengage text for a one-semester advanced course (3rd ed.) that I thought was expensive at $16.50 in the 1970's now retails for $347.95 (7th ed.). Yes, three hundred(!) and fifty bucks. The publisher's rental fee for the fall 2013 semester is $120. A Wiley text that cost $13.50 in 1968 (1st ed.) now costs $247.99 (10th ed.) for the regular version and $257.99 for the extended version. The electronic version is $89 and requires that the student download and install proprietary software. The electronic version may or may not stay active throughout the entire multi-semester course sequence. It is frustrating to have proper texts available, but not be able to use them.

The publisher and bookstore reps are always extremely helpful and have been very good to me through the years. I appreciate that very much. Unfortunately, the astronomical prices effectively sabotage my courses. I recently had a class revolt on the first day of the term because of a $180 paperback for the one-semester course. I used that book for over ten years, but I can't use it any more. Its current list price is $271.95, and even the previous edition, used, is well north of $150. Students generally prefer paper books, which are easier to use and sell. Many electronic versions are non-transferable and expire within a year. Students who might otherwise keep their books for future reference cannot do so. They find it necessary to sell their books from one semester in order to raise the money for next semester's books. To save money, students order their books online. The term is half over by the time the books arrive. In the meantime, the students fall behind and make excuses for not completing their assignments. Even if students don't revolt openly, the resentment is there and that makes it difficult to establish a good rapport with the class. This whole textbook situation just doesn't make for a good learning experience.
From twitter this week:
'Publishing has gone mad': literary world rocked by moves at HarperCollins and Penguin
The Guardian Literary clock - add a quote
Newsstand in Brooklyn subway station becomes pop-up shop for books and zines
Russell Brand: what I made of Morning Joe and Question Time

And in sports, how great was Andy Murray? (Guardian)

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