Friday, August 24, 2012

The eText Conundrum, Part II: iPads, Databases, and Widening Gyres

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhereThe ceremony of innocence is drowned;The best lack all conviction while the worstAre full of passionate intensity. - "The Second Coming" William Butler Yeats

Dramatic Enough?

@40ishoracle Commentary: Release the CODES!
In Part I, we left off with students able to open their electronic textbooks, having finally reached the right tech support person within the Pearson hierarchy who was able to release the correct code. Another notch in our BYOT belt was checked. That was Friday.

Over the weekend, I received an email from a distraught parent. Her son was unable to open the BIology textbook despite the codes given, the user created, etc. The parent needed to find out the refund procedure in order to trade in their electronic license for a paper copy (although later we found out the student might actually have been pushing for the iBooks copy, although that is still a little hazy on this end).

Since I have people at MBS monitoring this blog ("hi, @mbstextbook), I decided to email a few of them to get the ball rolling.  Early Monday, I met with the teacher, got the student access code, and began working on the problem in her classroom. In front of me, a laptop logged into the teacher's account on Pearson Database ALPHA, an iPad from the teacher resource center, a chromebook, and an ASUS Transformer Prime.

Biology book on laptop - Check
Chromebook - Check

These versions were in FLASH, so that was clearly not going to be the solution (and thus far, that was the only instruction they had been given).

To the interwebs!

Need to read a Pearson textbook? There's an app for fact there are like 5 of them. A quick help search showed that the high-school version was "Pearson for Schools". Downloaded the app. Installed. Used the login that I had created with the student code and smiled that knowing-smile that says "no problem"

The login/password that you have typed is incorrect or you do not have any books available for this format.
 So, the Pearson App is unable to tell which of those two VERY different issues is the problem? Seriously?

Confirmed that Pearson login was correct (as far as I knew). So now I am faced with the very real possibility that this book does not have an iPad equivalent. My @mbstextbook reps tell me that they are in conversation with Pearson.

The web gives me one help page that says Pearson is "compiling a list of books that are compatible with their online app". Ouch. A second page gives me a list of books, but our book is not one of the four Biology textbooks listed. Double Ouch.

More emails. I send out a tweet of desperation and get another @mbstextbook rep. working on my problem. I also receive this from the regional sales manager @Pearson:
Outstanding. More sales reps appearing bitter and unwilling to help a customer. Way to control the social media image of your organization. My first response was the snark version of my thoughts from the last post: if you don't want to support 3rd party distributors, quit using them. But when I attempted to engage with a legitimate plea: If i could get any rep to tell me there is an iPad/Android version of this book, that would be something... I was ignored.

My day ended with my @mbstextbook rep on a plane, no contact from @pearson support, frustrated teachers and students and parents. I sent out my last slightly-annoyed "where are we?" emails.

The next day, bright and early, I got an email from my in-flight @mbstextbook rep: "We have other schools opening that book on the iPad. There is a technical issue. I talked to a guy who is going to call you. Let me know!"

I had missed a call! and an email! (grr AT&T). A little phonetag later and I was introduced to a tech. A hardcore, knows his stuff, tested the solution before he called me, genuine support tech from @pearson. Without a doubt, Chris Holder is awesome!

The Solution:

  • Pearson Database ALPHA gives access to the web versions of the text and the tablet version of SOME texts. But NOT the Biology book. 
  • iPad Access is granted through Pearson Database GAMMA.
    ...but first
  • He gives me access to Pearson Database BETA (remember? from Chemistry). I have to do a bulk upload of students in biology (who purchased the book).
  • To get the bulk upload into the template I take students in biology out of Brebeuf Database Alpha and match them to student emails out of Brebeuf Database Beta (Why, hello, MSExcel, long time no use!).
  • After uploading the template, I create a fake teacher account and log into Pearson Database GAMMA
  • I have to hand type each student name until the GAMMA database pulls the student name from the BETA database. --> One hundred and eighty three students later.
  • Test on the tablet. Successful.
  • Grab a Freshman out of #digcit. Test on iPad successful
  • Email new usernames and passwords to Biology teachers.
  • DONE!
From Science Department Chair:


We are in the infancy of eTextbooks. We as educators and techs must understand this. While technology may be moving faster, bugs must still be worked out of systems.

But publishers and distributors have a responsibility as well. They cannot sell systems as simple and easy if it requires access to 3 different publisher accounts under two different usernames (in addition to two potential school databases).

In the effort to leverage textbooks into online learning management empires, publishers are forgetting a few essential things:
  1. Simplicity. Teachers want students to have a textbook. That process should be simple. Teachers are not accountants, book managers, or your employees.
  2. Educational technology, including eTextbooks should be used if it makes a teacher's job easier or has a direct and measurable impact on the learning of the student. This process did neither of those things and kept the text out of the hands of students until the 3rd week of school.
  3. Teachers have neither the time nor the desire to learn a complex system laden with features that are of no interest to them. Your leverage only work until it breaks and when it does, you will have a lot of time and effort wasted for want of more power.

Publishers and Distributors need to stop throwing each other under the bus. If they are partners, they need to consistently act like it. They should do what they do best: Get excellent content into the hand of teachers and student quickly and at an affordable rate.

I agree with @explanarob that eTexts are the future and that beyond their benefits of searching, notetaking, and sharing, we must find ways to embrace their analytic and content-update aspects. But at the end of the day, we're creating incredibly complex systems that cannot be used, nor understood, by the users who need the benefits the most.

That is the centre that cannot hold...

Less empire building.
Less blame throwing
Less complexity

Good content. Affordable. Easy.

Students are waiting.