A Master Class in Award-Winning Product Development (CIC Snapshot)

At AEP’s 2011 Content in Context Conference, Eric Hamilton from the American Museum of Natural History and Chair of the AEP Awards Committee led a panel on the key elements of developing high-quality content for education resources. Here are some highlights from presenters Rachel Buchholz (National Geographic Little Kids); Jim Hagedorn (Educational Options), and Jamie Cross (Math Solutions).

Rachel Buchholz

  • National Geographic Little Kids works hard to connect with both the parents and the kids since the parents are the gatekeepers for the home.
  • They survey their Family Panel, which consists of 800 parents, once a month to find out what they think of the cover art, inserts, activities, etc.
  • These surveys are crucial because the magazine isn’t just read once; kids and parents look at them over and over again, so every part of the product needs to be useful for that level of repeat engagement. For example, in the beginning, parents said they wanted activities, but the editorial team found out most parents were not doing them. That section got replaced with a four-page insert.
  • Another example of important parent critique concerned the covers. While National Geographic wanted to introduce kids to new animals, the parents said kids favored familiar animals, often in family settings, on the front. While elephants scored high, the photo of an ermine, for instance, was the lowest rated cover one year. The unusual and little known animals were then moved inside.
  • In addition to improving the magazine the Family Panel creates a bond between National Geographic and the readers. Families are developing a bond with the brand that will extend beyond the preschool years.

Jim Hagedorn 

  • Originally with school software, there was a feeling you could do almost anything as long as it was educational. Now, it’s essential that it’s research-based, differentiated, and meets increasingly demanding accountability standards.
  • In addition, schools are data-driven, so the software needs a data management system (or the ability to work with one) that allows educators to assess student progress at any given moment.
  • Educational Options applies a systematic development process to all products to ensure quality.  “All content is created using a stringent, research-based development process that starts with a review of Common Core and state-mandated academic standards to determine required learning outcomes.”
  • When creating a new educational technology resource, the first question a publisher must ask is: What can the technology do to help teachers teach?
  • They look at research that shows how teachers use technology. In addition, educators have to be taught how to use digital resources because it affects how they teach their lessons.
  • Most of their products are created by certified teachers, but then they undergo several reviews to ensure readability, accuracy, adherence to standards, etc. Educational Options uses a series of quality checks to ensure their products continue to meet the high standards they have set.

Jamie Cross

  • Math Solutions believes experience is what contributes to the quality of their products.
  • The company employs a Professional Development Team of full-time educators who go out to teachers and help them learn how to use their products.
  • They also use consultants who still work in the classroom practicing their craft.
  • Both the Professional Development Team and consultants search for teachers who could be a part of Math Solutions, invite them to submit videos, and help them grow as teacher mentors.
  • From these groups the authors emerge–dedicated, skilled classroom teachers who understand the Math Solutions mission who have a new idea that they want to share with educators around the world.
  • Every one of the company’s products is further tested in schools, but it’s the collective experience of the employees and educator network at Math Solutions that ensures their resources are high quality, relevant, and contribute to student and teacher success.

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