From the Editor
Digital Content Tools
Anne Wujcik — Friday, February 06, 2009
Some interesting headlines this week focused on the rapid evolution of digital content. Microsoft announced the Microsoft Semblio Software Development Kit (SDK), a tool that allows developers to create rich, immersive multimedia learning materials. Pearson released Pearson HTMLbooks, digital versions of course materials designed to support students with print disabilities. Encyclopaedia Britannica has made its Great Books of the Western World available in electronic form. And Follett Digital Resources has developed new proprietary software designed to provide a superior eBook experience more responsive to the needs of library customers.
Microsoft announced the Microsoft Semblio Software Development Kit (SDK), a tool that allows developers to create rich, immersive multimedia learning materials that teachers can customize and that promote collaboration. SDK is the first of three components that make up the Microsoft Semblio platform which consists of an SDK for developers to create and package content; an assembly tool for educators to combine multiple types of content into a single, multimedia package; and a runtime media player that students and educators can use to view and interact with the lessons and presentations. The assembly tool and player will be available with the next version of Microsoft Office, which will assure developers of a large base of potential users. A number of educational content publishers, developers and software vendors from around the world have announced plans to use Semblio, including Agilix Labs Inc., Educational Testing Service (ETS), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, SMART Technologies, Wolfram Research, Cambridge University Press in the United Kingdom and France’s Editis.
Microsoft says that the platform will make it easier and more cost-effective for content developers to transition to a digital format by allowing them to create content once and deliver it to all customers regardless of platform and seamlessly connect with educational services and software, such as learning management systems. The platform includes easy-to-implement conversion tools to facilitate the conversion of static materials into digital media.
Pearson unveiled Pearson HTMLbooks at the National Instructional Materials Access Standard (NIMAS) Implementation Advisory Council meeting. Digital versions of course materials, HTMLbooks provide a more immediate, flexible response to student needs than is currently available. HTMLbooks incorporate features designed to support students with print disabilities. Students can apply layers of assistive technology, such as screen readers that read the digital text aloud. Math titles include a specialized electronic form that will display equations as text, not as images. Verbal descriptions of pictures, charts and graphics, which have traditionally been inaccessible to students with sight disabilities, may be included.
Encyclopaedia Britannica has made its Great Books of the Western World available in electronic form and distributed exclusively through Ingram Digital’s MyiLibrary aggregated e-book platform. The e-book editions are fully searchable and extensively interlinked, allowing readers to find anything in the entire collection with a simple keyword search. The product also contains a complete set of hypertext links between the Syntopicon, the two-volume “Great Ideas” index to the Great Books, and the places in the main text to which the Syntopicon entries refer. While the pages of e-book look like those of the printed edition, extensive XML coding and tagging allow it to make the most of Ingram Digital’s capabilities for organizing and delivering content.
Follett Digital Resources has developed new proprietary software that it says will provide a superior eBook experience more responsive to the needs of library customers and their increasing use of eBooks. The new Follett Digital Reader will replace the Adobe technology customers currently use to download and read a Follett eBook. The company created the new format so that it could continue to protect publisher content while allowing the development of additional functionality for e-books to meet the specific needs of K-12 and public libraries. Among Follett Digital Reader’s enhanced capabilities are search tools, including “find text” and “find next” functionality; publisher pre-defined copy/paste and print capabilities; pre-defined bookmarks to jump to relevant content when set by the publisher; and note-taking tools with highlighting. On March 2, Follett’s existing eBook collections will be switched to the new format.
As educators increasingly turn to digital content to engage students and enrich learning, publishers are responding with tools and adaptations that are designed to make existing formats more classroom friendly. In turn, improved capabilities will attract more users and help expand the market. All in all, good news.