From the Field with Jennifer Steben

Jennifer Steben

Name, Affiliation, Role? Jennifer Steben, Inkling, Academic Solutions Director, Corporate Liaison, Board of Trustees, Executive MBA Council

Accomplished sales director, partnership manager, brand advocate and public speaker in the educational technology space. I enjoy driving growth, earning the respect of internal and external customers, improving market share and professionally portraying the company brand through unparalleled service.

Fourteen years of experience in digital publishing and ed tech. Currently at Inkling, a cloud publisher based in San Francisco that is backed by Sequoia Capital. In 2014, we were named #105 on the Inc 5000, #3 fastest-growing company in San Francisco, Fast Company’s “World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies” and “Top 10 Innovative Companies in Education.”

I also currently sit on the Board of Trustees for the Executive MBA Council (EMBAC), a two-year appointment as their Corporate Liaison. EMBAC is the global advocate for degreed executive education, assisting the world’s programs through curricular advancement, partnership and research.

I care about education, innovation and giving back.

Why are digital materials so important in education? Technology is a game changer. Think about a hard copy textbook on public speaking. It is one thing to read about the “I Have a Dream” speech, or read what a wonderful speaker Bill Clinton is. But to hear and watch Martin Luther King, all within the text of the book is a very compelling. You feel what it was like to be there that day. Watch and listen to Bill Clinton. You can feel his charisma through the video, learn skills he may employ like storytelling and see how he uses body language to get his point across. Then, in that same text, you can take an interactive quiz with immediate feedback. Or, perhaps share a speech or tip with another student in class via a social media export feature in the text. Interactivity to increase learning retention is a powerful thing. It is all about allowing the learning materials to be live things.

What do you think is the greatest barrier for digital materials in education? I think there are several. Five years ago, I would have said the biggest barrier were poor experiences with past digital products. Folks who took a chance on digital 5 years ago, or even 10, were working with glorified PDFs. It was “paper under glass”, not born digital. Way too vanilla. Of course, student reactions were lukewarm to cold and faculty were reluctant to take a chance again.

Today, I would say the biggest challenge is the continued fragmentation of the market. There are many vendors of digital material, including some universities themselves. Each publisher, each company, has a different format or approach. That means that students can have multitudes of apps or log ins where their content is stored. Inkling is hoping to standardize the way that content is displayed and created. Through comprehensive relationships with major publishers like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Elsevier and Wolters Kluwer, we are working to change the way content is created digitally from the start and how it is eventually displayed to the student.

What advice would you have for an instructor unsure of using digital materials in the classroom? Two major things. Number 1- take a chance. I have twins that just started Kindergarten this month. They are in an iPad 1:1 next gen classroom in a free, public school. They have been on iOS devices since age 1. This is what is happening. This born-digital generation is growing up expecting technology and they will demand immediacy, innovation and access. The K-12 segment is really taking off and most of higher education is behind the curve.  But there are some HiEd segments, like medical education particularly, that are really changing they way students learn with tablets, apps, wearables and digital content. Why are other segments of the university more apprehensive? Take a chance and try it. Lead vs. follow.

Number 2- be smart and understand the student experience. Know what you are getting yourself into. Does the digital content have heavy DRM? Is the interface too layered? How is the content deployed? Try the app or provider on different devices- iOS, Android and try it via a web browser. If you like the interface and have minimal obstacles, chances are your students will like it too. Do you run into too many red flags? Chances are your students will too. And then you will hear about it!

What do you think the state of digital materials will be in five years?  Five years is a long time with technology. I see things changing even more within the next year. It is an incredible time to be in educational technology and be a parent! In addition to our publishing partners, at Inkling we already see corporations using our platform for authoring, training and internal communications. To that end, I also see universities acting as a “corporation” or a “publisher” and creating more of their own proprietary, interactive content. Gamification and data are two more key things that are already happening and will escalate. The other thing that may be imminent is edition change. With digital content, do you need the 12th edition of a book, or push an app update instead? It’s a total model change. Exciting stuff.

Posted in From the Field