One of the most common pitches made by education companies today is that their products can provide teachers with specially tailored content to meet their individual instructional needs, and by extension, the individual needs of students.
Now, a well-known name in the field, McGraw-Hill Education, is making what appears to be an ambitious step in that direction by launching a platform that allows K-12 teachers to draw from a library of resources and assemble their own course materials chapter-by-chapter, subject-by-subject—with costs varying based on how much they grab.
The system also allows teachers to upload and weave in their own materials—lessons, discussion questions, other resources—into those assembled packets.
Companies of all sizes clearly believe that giving individual teachers, or groups of them, more freedom to shape classroom materials, rather than asking them to accept print or digital resources in their entirety, will meet a growing demand in schools. See my colleague Ben Herold’s recent reporting on companies offering platforms designed to allow educators to craft their own interactive lessons.
In some cases, businesses that sell distribution platforms and those that develop content are working together to produce those customized resources. Video lessons have become a popular medium for customizing lessons, though they’re being tried in other forms, too.
McGraw-Hill Education originally sold its product, called Create, to college professors interested in picking and choosing materials for their courses. Now the company is betting that the do-it-yourself model will have big appeal in K-12 systems. McGraw-Hill Education is also marketing Create, probably not surprisingly, as a tool to help educators cope with the common-core standards by allowing them to pick-and-choose academic resources that meet those academic benchmarks, and fill in content gaps.
Teachers can buy digital or bound print copies, complete with covers, for distribution to as many students as needed. Once a text has been “fully customized,” McGraw-Hill Education says the system can provide a full digital copy to a teacher in less than an hour.
Many of the materials teachers can choose from in the system, which became available in K-12 systems earlier this year, come directly from McGraw-Hill’s catalogue, though resources from other providers that have partnered with McGraw-Hill are also included, as are some open-source documents.
For teachers, “the beauty of this is that they’re in control of that content—and the price,” said Dan Plofchan, director of custom solutions for McGraw-Hill Education’s school division. “It’s more effective [as an approach] than them hunting and pecking for all of their different resources.”
Teachers can search for resources in a bunch of ways, including by subject, grade level, and copyright year, and they can arrange them in the order they want.
The selection and sorting does have limits, however. The system doesn’t allow teachers to cut-and-paste individual lessons, problems, and excerpts at will—for the most part it’s available only in larger chunks, explained Plofchan, though the granularity varies by the resource selected.
As teachers go through and pick the content they want, the price rises accordingly. On one recent test run provided for Education Week, the cost was about $18 for a collection of resources, a price that McGraw-Hill Education officials said wouldn’t be atypical for a single volume.
The total price depends on how many students are going to be using the final, configured products. If teachers want e-books, rather than hard copies, the price is also calculated per students, but with a discount for digital products, company officials said.
A lot of the purchasing that occurs in districts gets routed through centralized offices, and McGraw-Hill Education officials said they expect to market the Create platform directly to curriculum directors and other decisionmakers with buying power. But they will also promote it directly to teachers, who in some cases have discretion to make purchases on their own, or at least influence those decisions.
Marketing products as compatible with the common-core standards has become routine for K-12 businesses these days—though there have been serious questions raised about whether those products are as closely aligned to the standards as companies claim.
McGraw-Hill officials say they have vetted materials in Create and are identifying them as common-core aligned if they meet that mark. In some cases, Plofchan said, individual teachers combing through the system with a particular academic standard in mind will be best suited to make that judgment.
Image of a teacher resource under assembly, by McGraw-Hill Education.