Pearson has released a new online curriculum for U.S. history meant to create an immersive and engaging experience for students, even as the giant education company continues to try to sell off the K-12 classroom lessons it offers in the United States.
The new curriculum, called Project Imagine, is a supplemental resource that seeks to guide students through historical events with features such as interactive maps, 360-degree technology, and links to actual archived, historical recordings and documents.
Like other content-providers in the market, Pearson is seeing more districts demanding flexibility in the kinds of curricula they’re buying, including collections of stand-alone supplemental resources as an alternative to broader, core curricular materials, said Katharine Lauffer, Pearson’s director of marketing for K-12 humanities.
For that reason, Pearson is selling the Project Imagine history curriculum in a number of formats: as a package with Pearson’s broader, core history curriculum; and a supplement on its own, or even as a supplementary resource layered on top of core history curricula sold by other publishers and content providers, Lauffer said.
“We wanted to make this work for all of our customers” and “meet them where they’re at,” she said in an interview.
Pearson wants to expand Project Imagine to other history and social studies curricula under development, too, such as in world history and civics, she added.
Earlier this year Pearson, a worldwide corporation, announced that it was putting its K-12 curriculum business up for sale, telling investors that those products were a “lower margin” part of its operations. K-12 curriculum revenues stood at about $550 million, the company said, which represented about 9 percent of its revenues, but only about 2 percent of its profits last year.
The company said in February that it had been in discussions with potential acquirers. Apparently those talks did not bear fruit, because no sale has been announced yet.
In a call with investors in July, Pearson CEO John Fallon reiterated that the company still intends to shed its K-12 curriculum, telling analysts, “It’s held for sale because we expect to sell it.”
Lauffer said her team has been focused on “business as usual” in developing and marketing the immersive U.S. history curriculum, even as Pearson explores a sale. One sign of Pearson’s continued ambitions is that it is looking to have its history curriculum products approved for state adoption in several states. (Pearson is also competing to have its curricula in other subjects given states’ blessings, such as in California, where it is bidding for state adoption in science.)
Pearson is betting that students who log into Project Imagine will be captivated by the visual and audio features, and by personalized accounts designed to convey what it was like to live through historical periods, in ways that traditional print and digital texts don’t allow.
One section of the program’s sections on World War II, for instance, takes students inside the lives of U.S. citizens living through early-1940s campaigns to get the public to join the war effort.
Students are introduced to Ruth, a 25-year-old woman whose husband has enlisted in the army after Pearl Harbor. Ruth, who is raising a three-year-old son, is thinking about taking a job in a war-production factory.
Students are taken inside Ruth’s apartment. By clicking on a radio, they hear the audio of an actual song designed to rally the American public to the war effort, “Let’s All Back the Attack.” By clicking on an image of the Saturday Evening Post, they can read an article describing female factory workers:”Meet the Girls Who Keep ‘Em Flying.”
Students are also introduced to Annie, an 18-year-old African American woman who just graduated from high school and is living in Los Angeles. Her family hoped to escape discrimination in the South, but has not. The passages with Annie offer recordings and firsthand written accounts of blacks at the time who were uncertain whether to seek work in the war production factories, and from others describing what the factory conditions were like.
Pearson is betting that the curriculum will appeal to districts that believe “technology is not just a place to put content,” said Lauffer.
“It’s always harder to get students to engage–to know what it was like to be a part of history.” The lessons are “giving students the perspective of what it was like to live in those time periods.”