October 22, 2014

Curriculet—Formerly Gobstopper—Partners with HarperCollins on Enriched Ebooks for Schools

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Curriculet (previously Gobstopper), a digital reading platform designed for teachers and stocked with interactive educational and social media features, has teamed up with HarperCollins to offer a flexible book buying program for schools.

The pilot endeavor, now offered to 256 schools, allows institutions to buy a portion of the HarperCollins backlist catalog through Curriculet for periods of three months or a year, says Curriculet CEO Jason Singer. Teachers can then use Curriculet’s tools to embed the ebooks with quizzes, questions, and videos; add scaffolding material including Web links and annotations; and insert customized, Common-Core-based assessments. “We’ll see more big publishers” joining Curriculet’s program to in early 2014, Singer says, and Curriculet will be publicly available by the summer.

The buying model frees schools to purchase and teach titles they might not otherwise choose, Singer maintains. When educators spend money on physical books or alternately-priced ebooks, they often feel obliged to select titles that will can be re-used as curriculum staples or library borrows year after year, he believes. Curriculet’s short-term formula, he maintains, allows teachers to cast a wider net and buy more contemporary titles that appeal to a wider array of students.

Some popular HarperCollins books chosen by schools since the pilot started in August include Gone (2008) by Michael Grant, The Alchemist (1993) by Paolo Coelho, Walk two Moons (1994) by Sharon Creech, as well as Loser (2002) by Jerry Spinelli, Bridge to Terebithia (1977) by Katherine Paterson, The Poisonwood Bible (1998) by Barbara Kingsolver, Black Boy (1966) by Richard Wright, and many others, according to Singer and Alexandra Stephan, assistant account executive at Atomic PR.

Teachers add their own features to these books, including title-specific “curriculets” supplied by the company that teachers can personalize and that include questions tied to Common Core State Standards, says Singer.

“When a student engages with the book, as they turn pages, they answer questions and interact with videos and images,” he says.  This means that students “know they’re going to get immediate feedback that printed books and the first generation of ebooks didn’t provide.” Before, he notes, “if you were struggling, there was nothing in the printed text that could help you. Now, a question pops out. [Students] will know right away if they understand the meaning of a novel.”

In addition, a “rich algorithm” created by Curriculet allows teachers to quickly scan student data: How long and when each student completed the reading; what percentage of questions relating to a specific Common Core standard a student got right; and other information.

“One of the first things people ask is, ‘Won’t it hurt the reading experience to be interrupted?’ What we’ve seen is the exact opposite,” according to Singer. “Most readers need to stop and check to see if they understand. This gives them the chance to stop and take a breath and engage more deeply.”

“Some public schools have gone a step further than we imagined,” Singer adds. “They created a period during the day when everyone reads on Curriculet,” either school-assigned reading or titles of their choice, often for silent reading sessions.

Singer points out that the Curriculet platform can accommodate articles and documents in addition to books. While the service is accessible on any browser or device with Internet access, “teachers will display Curriculet material on a projector in class if not all students have their own devices, with kids answering questions on a white board,” he says.

Once teachers have designer their curriculum, their “layers of questions and enriched media are fully sharable” via social media, Singer adds—providing support for his conviction that “the best curriculum published every day is published by teachers.”

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Sarah Bayliss About Sarah Bayliss

Sarah Bayliss (sbayliss@mediasourceinc.com) is associate editor, news and features, at School Library Journal.

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