Content and Software: Partners in Education

Twenty years ago I was told that content was obsolete. 

I was standing on the exhibit floor of NECC (National Educational Computing Conference, now called ISTE), chatting with a ponytailed man in the booth of an ed-tech start-up. He smirked slightly when I told him that I worked in editorial development for a K–12 textbook publisher. “We won’t need your kind anymore,” he said. “It’s all about the engine. That’s what teachers will come for.”

I raised an eyebrow. “You’ll need good content to run on your engine. Otherwise, what would teachers need it for? That’s what I do—develop curriculum and content. I think I’ll be around for a while.”

If I had believed, as he did, that the need for content was going to fade away along with paper books, I wouldn’t have been at that conference. At the time, I was involved with a science curriculum project that cobbled together laserdiscs, interactive software (loaded from floppy discs), and binders full of paper to deliver a “multimedia” experience for students. For its time, it was hot stuff. During demonstrations, teachers gasped in wonder when a click on the keyboard played a video segment—via cable—on the laserdisc. They admired the 8-bit graphics on the interactive student investigations. Some teachers wanted to know if student work could be printed out so they could take it home to grade. (It could.) A few asked if the program was available for Apple IIe. (It wasn’t.)

Much has changed since the mid-1990s. Once in awhile I do still come across that exhibitor’s attitude—the idea that software trumps content. But I’m happy to report that it’s never, ever happened with anyone associated with Six Red Marbles. Everyone at Six Red Marbles understands that you need to consider the whole user experience, including content, software, and many other factors, if you’re going to develop a curriculum that engages students and helps them to achieve mastery.

Marble staffing reflects the belief that it takes multiple perspectives to build effective educational materials. There’s no need to find one developer for writing, another for learning experience design, and another for software engineering. At Six Red Marbles, learning experience designers work closely with content specialists, coders, copyeditors, graphic designers, project managers, production specialists, and people in many other functions, whether their colleagues are sitting nearby or in another Marble office miles away. And there’s a company-wide respect for the knowledge and contributions of each team member, including the clients we partner with.

And respect for expertise will never be obsolete.

Created by: 
Marianne Knowles