Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Interview with Head of Prestwick House Digital Resources, Keith Bergstrom

This week, I sat down with Prestwick house General Manager and Head of Prestwick House Digital Resources, Keith Bergstrom to learn a little bit about Prestwick House’s digital learning tools and the new Vocabulary Power Plus Online program released earlier this month.

Prestwick House has been selling their reproducible products as downloadables for years. What is your new focus on digital products and how is it different from what we’ve already seen?

We’ve been a leader in digital distribution because we’ve always been focused on how teachers can use technology in the classroom. In the past, we’ve focused on using the power of the internet to make it easier and cheaper to get ready-to-use resources into the classroom, but we’re finally reaching a point in which access to computers is pervasive enough that teachers will be able to make technology a core part of their classroom.

We certainly don’t believe that books are dying—they’re certainly a fantastic way to deliver information to students, and I don’t think they’re going away anytime soon—but beyond the page there are tremendous opportunities to empower teachers to have a more dynamic classroom.

So, beyond these downloadables, what has Prestwick House Digital been working on?

Well, over the last few years we’ve been expanding our delivery methods to a variety of ebook readers. You can now find Prestwick House books on Apple iPads, Amazon Kindles, Sony Nook’s and other popular eBook platforms. While these are not yet available in most classrooms, we’re starting to hear rumblings from teachers, so we’ll be ready when they are.

In terms of mobile platforms, we released our first iPhone/iPad application last year to help students study for Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT, and we’re working on developing more apps for other popular series.

The tool that I think is developing the fastest is the use of digital whiteboards and presentation technologies. We’ve released a variety of ready-to-use Power Presentations to teach grammar, introduce new novels, and help teachers with lectures. We’ve been creating new presentations to accompany each resource book that we’ve released this year. We want the classroom teacher to have a wide range of materials available to teach the books in any way he or she sees fit, without needing to spend hours preparing slides.

Finally, I’m really excited about our new online extension to the Vocabulary Plus series, Vocabulary Power Plus Online.

Vocabulary Power Plus Online launched earlier this month, what exactly is it?

Vocabulary Power Plus Online is a digital version of our best-selling program, Vocabulary Power Plus for the New SAT. It’s our first foray into a completely digital arena, and we’re really excited about the possibilities this opens up.

It includes all of the exercises and resources from the series in an easy-to-use cloud-based program that puts an interactive version of the books directly onto student screens. Students can securely log in to an online program and see what’s been assigned, do their homework, practice for tests, and even take quizzes and tests online. Teachers can manage grade books, make assignments, and see reports on student progress. The system will automatically grade student work and give them instant feedback on where they need to improve. Teachers should really appreciate the automatic grading of multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank exercise while students will love having the ability to do their homework online.

So, does Vocabulary Power Plus Online supplement the books, or replace them?

We designed the program with both methods in mind. We know that many teachers will be hesitant to replace the book in their classroom. Those teachers can just use the online program to manage assignments and grades, but teachers that are ready to go completely digital will find all of the resources from the books available online.

What kinds of assessment materials are available with Vocabulary Power Plus Online?

We’ve turned all of the weekly quizzes, unit tests, and pre- and post-tests into online assessments. All of them are included with a subscription. Teachers can proctor the exams in a computer lab because all of the answers and questions are scrambled to keep students from cheating, and all of the assessments are instantly graded.

Where can our readers find out more about Vocabulary Power Plus Online?

I’d love to schedule demos for any readers that are interested in learning more. Click here to sign up for a free web demo.

So, what’s on the horizon for Prestwick House Digital Resources?

As I speak with teachers, I’m learning a lot about what they’re looking for in terms of online resources. Many companies are making online programs full of cute animations that may entertain students, but they’re not actually teaching students. We’re focusing on developing pedagogically sound resources that empower teachers to do what they do best – make a personal connection with students and foster learning. We believe that a teacher will always be the center of a classroom, so we’re at work developing tools that make teachers’ lives easier and their classrooms more effective. Right now, we’re evaluating tools to improve a teacher’s ability to use our curriculum resources, and we hope to unveil more online resources in the coming year.

To schedule a web demo of Vocabulary Power Plus Online, click here, and Prestwick House will contact you in 24-48 hours.

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