In 2013 W3C launched a new Digital Publishing Activity. I recently spoke with Madi Solomon, Head of Data Architecture Standards at Pearson Publishing about digital publishing trends, especially related to digital learning.
IJ: What is your role at Pearson?
MS: Pearson is in the middle of a period of extensive, and exciting change, including my own role. Today I am head of data architecture and standards. Next year the role will evolve in ways not yet announced.
IJ: Will it be very different?
MS: A lot will be the same, but with different lipstick. What I do here at Pearson relates to open industry standards —which we use at Pearson and promote in the publishing industry at large— for semantics, metadata, taxonomies, and XML. Standards are important to us, which is why I’m pleased that Pearson was the first publishing company to join W3C. I’m glad others in the industry such as Hachette are joining the effort as well.
IJ: What do you think may be driving this trend?
MS: Publishing is no longer about books, or even just eBooks. It’s about screens. Readers need to be able to view content on all sorts of devices. This is particularly important in the education sector. I recently read that that the iPad is holding a 94% share of the education market for tablets. That is an early indicator of how technology is changing how educational content is being delivered and consumed.
IJ: How does the movement to screens relate to the changes as Pearson you were referring to?
MS: It is a Pearson imperative to shift from a “print philosophy” where our focus has been to push the best content we could create to the learner, to a new philosophy that puts the learner at the center of the content. We want to maintain an ongoing relationship with the learner. That is more achievable than ever before because of technology. We see new ways to help learners reach their goals, through intelligent tutoring and well-tailored content. We see ways to help learners with disabilities further their trajectories in higher education or careers. We want to become an “efficacy” company, where learner achievement is the measure of content worth.
IJ: How do you measure learner achievement?
MS: Education authorities around the world have curricula to represent achievement goals. To develop resources to meet those goals, Pearson needs to know about the different audiences, curricula, and objectives. We want to enable our editors to develop resources that will meet the needs of diverse curricula around the world. Today a lot is done manually. We’d like to automate the process to accelerate production and make it easier to reuse content. It will also allow us to understand dependencies among data sets, and to identify content gaps.
IJ: How do you do that?
MS: Right now our focus is on a semantic taxonomy. We are developing a tool that will let our editors search all authorities, by subject, for all learner level, and for different learning statements. The back end is a semantic ontology model. When an editor gets the assignment to create a science text book for grade 4 or 5 in Australia or New Zealand, the editor will type in a few keywords see all the learning objectives that they need to cover. And the editor will see that an existing piece of content (e.g., a video of a heart created for a curriculum in Singapore) could be reused to meet similar achievement goals. Modularizing content will make it easier to reuse in MOOCs as well.
IJ: Is this being done with Semantic Web technology?
MS: That’s our goal: to use open vocabularies and linked data for education.
IJ: How far do you think you can get in customization? Instead of just tailoring content for an educational market, can you customize for individual learners?
MS: Customization is a goal for higher education, since instructors build the curriculum they want their students to learn.
IJ: You are participating in the Digital Publishing Interest Group at W3C. Is this on their agenda?
MS: The publishing experts in the Interest Group are identifying components to create a good reading experience across multiple devices. We’ve put together several task forces to determine what needs to be done to stabilize their specific topics.
IJ: What are some example of requirements?
MS: Requirements today relate to layout, pagination, metadata, behavior adaptation, annotation, accessibility. Pearson wants to promote open standards for digital publishing rather than be locked into technologies for specific devices. For content to be fluid on any device, we need open standards, and W3C is helping to create important ones in this space. There is so much going on at W3C. I wish I had more time to devote to it!
IJ: Thank you for your time with me!