In their words: James O'Neill, Senior VP, marketing strategy, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 

"Instead of the teachers teaching everything for the first time in the classroom, they can now have the students use the app as a way to learn new concepts."

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An as-told-to interview with a Chicago publishing whiz, for our Spring Books issue.

"HMH is the largest K-through-12 publisher in the U.S. The two other major educational publishers are Pearson, which has a presence here in Glenview, and McGraw Hill, which has an office downtown. Combined, the three of us make up about 90 percent of the educational publishing business.

"We're based in Boston, since 1832. Our trade publishing is primarily out of Boston and New York; in the Chicago area we employ more than 600 full-time people—editors, marketers, product development folks, and sales teams. We have offices in Evanston, Rolling Meadows, and Geneva. The Evanston office was McDougal Littell, which became part of HMH in 1994.

"It's an exciting time to be in educational publishing. The tools students and teachers are using to learn, teach, and measure success are changing. We have a number of new products that are helping out as that shift from print to digital is happening.

"One of the products is an app called HMH Fuse. In September 2010, we launched a pilot program testing an algebra curriculum on an iPad in four California school districts. It has the content you'd expect in a textbook—practice problems, examples, instruction on how to do things—but what's really exciting about it is that it has all the elements embedded to make it truly mobile: videos, tool sets that allow kids to practice their problems and take notes, and also a data system that reports back to the teacher in real time how students are progressing.

"What we're finding is that the instruction model almost flips. Instead of the teachers having to teach everything for the first time in the classroom and review, they can now have the students use the app as a way to learn new concepts. Then the teachers can get the data before they even start the class, to see where each of the students is. And they can adapt their instruction, pinpoint where there might be misunderstandings of the content.

"That's where the technology has really enabled not just the content the student needs to learn but also the way the teacher is teaching. Giving them the tools they need to be more effective. In one of the pilot sites, using the mobile app versus the textbook, we saw a 19 percent gain on a state algebra test.

"We started selling HMH Fuse this school year for algebra, geometry, and algebra II.

"The iPad is still relatively new in the education space. Either the school district provides the device or it's BYOD. A public school pays $49.99 for the app. If they were to buy the textbook it would be around $75. If the district provides the device, they install the app on the device and they can reuse it.

"We also have almost all of our front list—our major programs across subject areas—available as e-textbooks, which can be read on a mobile device.

"And all of our programs have an online curriculum component, for the laptop or desktop. We've developed two fully digital solutions for K-through-grade-eight science, as well as K-through-12 language arts. A school district could do a full digital implementation today. But many districts opt for what we call the hybrid model, where they still have some print component.

"We see ourselves as a leader in transforming education. The big news is we have a new CEO who started about six months ago. She joined us from Microsoft."

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