Interview with Roger Rosen: On embracing technology selectively and holistically

Navigating Rosen Publishing’s 2014 catalog of digital content may at first seem a bit overwhelming: it impresses both as a vibrant presentation of the company’s wide array of digital offerings but it also reminds us of just how “digital” K–12 publishing has become. Or at the very least, it makes those of us still tempted to think of Rosen as merely a “publisher” realize it has now transformed into a multifaceted media company.

Perhaps more than any other independent publisher of K–12 resources on the market today, Rosen has become synonymous with high-quality, always in-demand, constantly evolving interactive content. It has also become synonymous with digital learning solutions, produced to be fully aligned with state, national, STEM, and Common Core standards. Indeed, taking a closer look at Rosen’s offerings today, it’s clear that despite the versatility of its content, Rosen has become a passionate advocate of STEM learning. And they’ve been releasing products to prove it, too.

Spring 2014 issue of eContent Quarterly, now available to subscribers on ALA Techsource’s  web site for download, features a review of Rosen Publishing’s Core Concepts: Period Table, a resource in Rosen’s Core Concepts suite, which launched in 2013 and was followed with the early 2014 release of Core Concepts: Biology. While eContent Quarterly features an exclusive review of the product, taken for a test drive by two school librarians in two different institutions, the interview below with Roger Rosen, president of Rosen Publishing, is available exclusively on No Shelf Required. We caught up with Roger and asked him to shed some light on the company’s journey from a print publisher to a leading digital media company for the K-12 library market.

 

INTERVIEW with Roger Rosen, President of Rosen Publishing

 

Please define Rosen’s core mission as a publisher.

Rosen’s mission might best be defined as a mandate to engage and motivate students by providing compelling just-right content correlated to curriculum.  Bringing this editorial and design care to a range of subjects and formats across the K–12 space has provided us with a unique opportunity to impact student learning and outcomes.

What distinguishes Rosen’s content from the content of other K-12 publishers on the market today? What attributes accurately describe Rosen books?

We have a great deal of respect for the contribution of our colleagues within the K–12 educational publishing environment. Perhaps what most distinguishes Rosen as a publisher is how responsive we are to changing needs within the society, providing quality innovative materials that meet students’ quest for information. The August 2014 publication of our Code Power: A Teen Programmer’s Guide book and ebook series is an excellent example of this. We are publishing individual books on programming with Hackety Hack, Ruby, Python, Alice, Arduino, Scratch, Raspberry Pi, and Lego Mindstorms. We are also publishing under our PowerKids imprint a series in August entitled Maker Kids, which explores how elementary students can get the most out of makerspaces to work with musical instruments, flying objects, 3D printers, and microcontrollers.  This sort of publishing bespeaks our understanding of where the library and the student powerfully intersect.

With respect to our electronic resources, I think our innovation speaks for itself in relation to others: we have seen wide adoption of our Digital Literacy, Financial Literacy, and Teen Health & Wellness databases.  We have spent a great amount of time researching the components of these electronic resources and have designed them through focus groups of users, as well as consultations with librarian users through our Library Board.  Gamification, interactivity, student-created content, customized local resources, text to speech, translation into 52 languages, sharing through social media, and mobile apps are just a few of the features and functionality that contribute to the experience of using our materials. Our Digital Literacy database, for example, which won Library Journal‘s Best New Database for 2013, provides tools to guide students to become citizen journalists, to create a podcast, to film a PSA. The Teen Health & Wellness database contains a personal story project that has given teens throughout the country the chance to become published authors and share life-changing stories with their peers.

What are Rosen’s strength categories at the moment? Browsing through the current catalog, it becomes apparent that there’s been a heavy emphasis on STEM education in recent years.

Rosen publishes in all curriculum subject areas: math, social studies, history, science, ELA.  In recent years we have given particular emphasis to STEM education through our interactive database, PowerKnowledge Science Suite for grades 3–6+ covering life science, earth and space science, and physical science, as well as our Core Concept Science Suite, which is an interactive electronic resource covering chemistry, biology, the periodic table, for grades 7–12.

Given the array of Rosen’s digital offerings, is it accurate to define Rosen in this day and age as a media (rather than publishing) company? If so, is this the direction you see most K-12 educational publishers taking in the future?

Frankly we have discussed whether to change our name from Rosen Publishing to Rosen Media for precisely the reasons you state. For the moment, however, I personally see no contradiction or confusion in a publisher “publishing” digital content. My colleagues on the Board of the American Association of Publishers where I serve feel likewise. But nomenclature is reality, and we continue to track the nuances embedded within this issue.

Rosen publishes hundreds of new titles each year (according to the information on your site, this number hovers around 700). That’s an impressive number for an independent publisher. How do you ensure that high editorial standards are maintained when dealing with so much content?

Despite the fact that we create two to three new electronic resources a year, we still very much believe in the parallel efficacy of print as an information vehicle.  Indeed, notwithstanding the fact that we publish hundreds of new books a year, our company is organized into small editorial boutique imprints that ensure a level of quality and care for the final book that arrives in a student’s hands.  We see no contradiction between a print and electronic resource but feel that one can enhance the other, extending the learning, addressing issues of equity of access, and publishing to be adaptive to different learning styles.

As you know, K-12 libraries continue to struggle with budgets. For many, digital content and interactive electronic resources remain out of reach. Many don’t purchase ebooks owing to the steep cost of subscriptions to various lending services or owing to various restrictions imposed on access that make it difficult to circulate them. What are some ways in which publishers and library vendors and libraries can work together to help libraries bring more digital content to elementary, middle, and high school students?

Rosen is very sensitive to the fact that K-12 libraries at this point in time often have budget constraints.  As such, across all of our digital resources—ebooks, interactive ebooks, databases—we have created both outright purchase models as well as subscription models tailored to a library’s needs.  This partnership model has allowed for a much wider dissemination of electronic resources than has sometimes been achieved through the restrictive models of the big five publishers.  Rosen’s goal is always to get our material in front of the student so that the learning can occur. 

Our interactive ebooks with content creation tools, for example, can be an outright purchase to libraries allowing simultaneous access. Students can read the book with enhanced media and can also read the book with 21st-century writing activities that include creating a digital storyboard, a wiki page, or a blog as an example.

Recently released Pew reports have pointed to the majority of children in the U.S. still preferring to read print books over ebooks. Does this surprise you given their comfort with new technologies?

This does not surprise me. The celebration of technology and an acknowledgment of its power need not stand to belittle the power of the printed book nor the acknowledgment that as a magical object it has been responsible for more readers throughout the ages to take “the magical mystery tour” than any number of early adopters walking down a street in Cupertino.

Does the previous perhaps indicate that we have reached at point at which the “hybrid” market allows various formats to co-exist? Is this the strategy you envision for Rosen moving forward? In other words, do you agree that the reports of the “death” of print may have been greatly exaggerated all along?

As someone who has been in educational publishing for more than 34 years, I cannot think of a more exciting time to create new learning objects as a result of new technologies that allow for the digital convergence of audio, video, and interactive. Who could have imagined 20 years ago that a publisher could create a book that would allow the student to make their own mashup of the content, turning consumers into creators of information as the Common Core Standards have so elegantly articulated.

I firmly believe that the way forward for publishers is a hybrid model that uses technology selectively and holistically. A whiz-bang effect alone is just a temporary splutter and does not contribute to the sustained learning to which we all aspire. I also believe, however, that the unmediated meditation between reader and writer that transpires through the pages of a book will never die.

The spring issue of eContent Quarterly features a review of Core Concepts: Periodic Table, which is part of Rosen’s Core Concepts suite. This product is correlated to Next Generation Science Standards, Common Core standards, and various national and state science standards. How important are these standards when designing Rosen products? What are your thoughts on the effectiveness of such standards, particularly the Common Core, which has been under much scrutiny lately.

I personally am a big fan of the Common Core. I think it is brilliantly conceived, and I applaud the stake in the ground with respect to rigor and “the stretch.” In many ways, though, I think it is a document that exemplifies what good teaching has always been and what good teachers have always done. Clearly though, nothing can replace the on-the-ground decision making of a great teacher and his or her customization of learning that is responsive to an individual student’s needs. This simply cannot be legislated. With respect to our publishing program, Rosen is very aware indeed of state-specific standards and of the Common Core, and we are meticulous about correlating our materials to those standards and providing those explicit correlations to our customers.

Looking beyond 2014, what other products on the horizon will be game-changing for Rosen and possibly K-12 publishing?

Among many initiatives, we will expand our program to publish digital resources that are regionally specific as we have done with our Spotlight on Texas and Spotlight on New York interactive ebooks, which are used throughout those two states. We are working on such a program in Spanish for Puerto Rico for 2014. Extensions of our programming in digital literacy will also be new initiatives in the future, as well as other Spotlight programs such as our recently launched Spotlight on Ancient Civilizations.

Please address anything not mentioned that you’d like to share with our readers, particularly pertaining to current initiatives and future products.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to your readers. I would just like to close in saying we are in the midst of a revolution, one that in my opinion tops the upheavals of the Industrial Revolution by a factor of ten. No one has all the answers. We are all feeling our way with respect to disseminating information, experimenting with forms and functionality, pricing models, platforms, and delivery mechanisms. I am, however, supremely confident that we will arrive together at the sweet spot of shared desired outcomes precisely because ours is a field that has always collaborated and built consensus. Our advantage in doing so is that we are all members of the information community. It’s a great neighborhood to live in.