Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Educator Interview: Nick Glass on TeachingBooks.net

Nick Glass is the founder and executive director of TeachingBooks.net. From the promotional copy:

TeachingBooks.net is an easy-to-use website that adds a multimedia dimension to the reading experiences of children's and young adult books.

Our online database is developed and maintained to include thousands of resources about fiction and nonfiction books used in the K–12 environment, with every resource selected to encourage the integration of multimedia author and book materials into reading and library activities.


Could you tell us a bit about your professional background? What led you to TeachingBooks.net?

I view TeachingBooks.net as my contribution to educational equity. I'm trying to enable everyone to learn from authors when reading their books, and online technologies can act as a marvelous equalizer.

My background leading up to the founding of TeachingBooks.net is varied -- with the common denominator that I've always been fortunate to do work that I love.

After college, I worked in Major League Baseball as an executive and stats person for the Chicago White Sox, the Office of the Commissioner, and then the San Francisco Giants.

After a few years of that, I wasn't as happy as I wished and didn't feel that I was having the societal impact that I hoped -- so I went to graduate school to study educational policy and specifically the history of multicultural education.

It was then, while I was writing my dissertation, that I started working at Pooh Corner bookstore in Madison and formed what became the vision for TeachingBooks.net.

Founded upon the premise that educators find enjoyment and professional value in seeing and hearing authors talk about their work, TeachingBooks.net tries to offer readers an interaction with authors that is similar to what happens at bookstores or conferences or school visits. We strive to change the way one relates to the book by enabling readers to learn directly from the book creator. To accomplish that, we go into authors' homes and film them. We call and record them, and we gather and aggregate quality online materials that match our collection-development policy.

In April 2000, the genesis for TeachingBooks.net took form. It debuted at the American Library Association convention in San Francisco in June 2001 and was launched on the Internet Sept. 1, 2001. TeachingBooks.net began selling licenses in November 2003 and is currently licensed in more than 25,000 schools.

Could you give us some insight into the history of the website?

I covered some of the history of the website in the text above, so here I thought I'd visually share some of the history. As you look at these four versions of our home page, I hope you can see how exciting, but also how challenging it is to display what it is we do.

The theme and mission of TeachingBooks.net has really been consistent throughout the ten years, but the visual elements certainly have varied.

Is there one that resonates with you more than others?

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2001 (above)

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2002 (above)

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2004 (above)

TeachingBooks.net home page, 2010 (above)

Why is there a need for this kind of website?

The need for me is really twofold: First, to enable educators to know how engaging and easy and appropriate it is for them to integrate online author and book resources into the work they are doing with books.

We want all teachers, for example, who are reading the books of Roald Dahl or Lois Lowry to realize that they can learn directly from these amazing authors in their classroom. So, from a pedagogical standpoint, there is this specific need and even an educational shift I'm trying to address.

Second, there is a need to organize and vet all the ever-growing materials on the Web about books and authors so that very busy teachers have exactly what they need the moment they need it. Our website is like a library, with a collection development policy that helps identify, vet, and make easily available authoritative resources about authors and books.

Who is the audience?

TeachingBooks.net is for anyone who reads, teaches, or enjoys books for children and teens. This is every student, every teacher in all content areas, any librarian, any curriculum coordinator, any university professor -- anyone who reads and enjoys thinking about books in K-12, university, and public library settings.

Could you give us a more detailed overview of resources on the site?

My hope is that the homepage can reveal much about the site -- so I'll walk you through that a bit. But also feel free to watch this 10-minute video overview.

Central to the homepage is the purple search box. TeachingBooks.net is a collection of resources about specific books and authors -- so we want users of the site to search for the book or author that they are reading. Once they do that, they'll receive in one-easy-to-use online location a collection of quality resources about that author or title -- ready for them to use.

For example, I searched on Lois Lowry's The Giver (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993) and found the more than 25 authoritative materials, including a movie filmed in Lois Lowry's home, many novel units/discussion guides, a recording of her revealing the story of her name, and audio excerpts of the book being read by her and a professional actress.

Also on the home page are featured resources that TeachingBooks.net produces with amazing authors and illustrators. These featured resources change each week, and are always free for anyone to use, if they subscribe to TeachingBooks.net or not.

Here's an image of what our featured page looks like.


What are a couple of your favorite features and why?

I love that we communicate with the most amazing authors and illustrators of today. We've had Elie Wiesel pronounce his name for us, had Maya Angelou share what inspired her to write I Know Why the Cages Bird Sings (1969), and filmed David Macaulay in his studio -- twice! We spoken to Judy Blume, Jon Sciezzka, Nancy Garden and literally almost 2,000 other authors and illustrators.

I also really like our new Curricular Uses section of the website, where we highlight specific resources that can be used in different content areas -- showcasing how and when you can infuse authors, books, and technology into all curricular areas.

You can find this section on our home page -- just look for the green chalkboard.

What are the biggest challenges to managing content? Other challenges?

The biggest challenge we have in managing online content is reviewing the material and cataloging it so that readers can easily find it. Fortunately, I'm blessed to work with gifted librarians who know how to do this, so we have established consistent related rules and procedures. You are welcome to read our collection development policy.

We also must make sure that every resource on our website goes to the link on the Web that we think it should, and for that, we've written a complicated but excellent program to ensure that our links are as reliable as possible.

What plans do you have for new features in the future?

We have many exciting enhancements coming, all of which center around helping the user of our website easily seeing how relevant and exciting it is to have the author of a book available to them, and how powerful it is to integrate multimedia into their reading and library activities.

Right now, for example, we're reorganizing the way we display search results. This is about a 1000-hour project that involves rethinking and re-envisioning the user experience in a way that I hope will be clear and exciting for all.

Much has been said about the competitive versus cooperative relationship between books and technology. Where do you see this all going?

Books are vital and marvelous. I deeply believe that books can be used in every content area in a K-12 school environment, and technology can compliment that in some marvelous and relevant ways.

TeachingBooks.net is focused on infusing technology to enable everyone to meet the author when reading the book, to let multimedia and online literacy experiences bring the book to life. I find it an exciting and relevant and vibrant relationship between books and technology.

7 comments:

Nick said...

Thanks, Cynthia, for including me and the work that I love on Cynsations! I appreciate that.

I'm always open to any questions and suggestions -- so I thought I'd post my email address: nick@teachingbooks.net

Cheers -- Nick Glass

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Nick, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, your enthusiasm and for all you do for young readers, educators, authors, and youth literature.

Sarah Campbell said...

I am curious about content development that is not done by your staff. Do you pay for content that is generated by others, but that would be useful to your customers?

Nick said...

Sarah, thanks for your question. If I understand what you are asking, TeachingBooks is either creating our own materials (see http://teachingbooks.net/tbfeatured.cgi for a sampling) or we are identifying and aggregating materials that are already available on the web that meet our collection development needs. We do have arrangements with other content producers, but everything is done with the intent of helping our customers have engaging, relevant materials at their fingertips about the books they are using.

If your question is if we are looking to contract people to to produce materials just for us, the answer is no.

Thanks! -- Nick Glass, nick@teachingbooks.net

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thanks for your questions, Sarah, and for answering, Nick!

adelenekeelersmith said...

What a great website! We are living in the age of technology and books are not exception to the advancements. It is great that you are giving educators and students the opportunity to interact with book authors. As an author myself, I realize the importance of these interactions. Great job!

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Thanks, Adelene! I agree that literature and technology can be cooperative rather than competitive, and TeachingBooks.net is a terrific example!

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