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Arkansas Expands Digital Encyclopedia Program for Schools

Guest post by Nikhita Venugopal

Arkansas' educators and school leaders now have additional resources to help infuse more digital instructional materials into the K-12 curriculum.

In a new licensing agreement with the state's department of education, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that teachers and students will have unlimited access to a larger array of online resources and services from Britannica's vast online library for studying, homework help, classroom lessons and projects, research, math practice, reading, and other activities, according to a press release.

Michael Ross, a senior vice president at Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. and general manager of Britannica Digital Learning, said 17 other states have entered similar statewide deals with the Chicago-based company, but Arkansas is the first state to include Pathways: Science, a science-oriented online program.

The impetus behind the arrangement falls in line with the state's involvement with developing next-generation science standards. The state program will provide access to the trove of materials for all public elementary, middle, and high schools.

Earlier this year, Britannica announced plans to cease publication of the print edition of its 32-volume set. My colleague Katie Ash wrote extensively about the announcement in March, learning that many librarians still opt for the "security" and reliability of encyclopedias when compared to the vast, free information resources available on the Internet.

"One of the important aspects of retiring the print edition is to be able to devote much more time to digital offerings," said Ross. "The print set was a distraction for us."

The demise of the print edition could deter students without access to the digital encyclopedia from using the reference books. But with the new agreement, Arkansas students and educators will only have to login to the state's new subscriber account to access thousands of topics available 24 hours a day, as long as they have an Internet connection, according to the release.

Dr. Tracy Tucker, the state director of curriculum and instruction, said the accessibility of the program in Arkansas homes and schools was one of the biggest draws to the agreement. "We're trying to make it available to as many educators and students as possible," she said.

Tucker added that the state had been using Britannica Online School Edition for several years prior to the agreement.

Britannica's move to a digital plane was not unexpected. Print sales for the company amounted to less than 1 percent of Britannica's total sales, 85 percent is from school- and library-focused digital products and 15 percent is from consumer online subscriptions, Tom Panelas, Britannica spokesman told Education Week earlier this year. While school subscriptions cost 67 cents per student with a minimum of $425 per school for a yearly subscription, Education Week reports, it is much more "cost effective when you purchase them in larger entities," said Hilit Kravitz, southern region director for Britannica Digital Learning.

"As opposed to a teacher buying something just for her classroom," she added.

The entire package purchased by Arkansas amounts to $2,500 for a small school, said Kravitz, and about $6,000 to $7,000 for larger schools.

The availability of a consistent online resource for all Arkansas schools will also make teacher training easier for the state. Kravitz said that webinars and face-to-face sessions with teachers have "tremendously increased" since the agreement.

According to the release, Arkansas will receive access to these Britannica products:

  • Britannica Online School Edition, which includes the encyclopedia and provides informational texts for all subjects, as well as student research and teacher lesson planning.
  • Image Quest: Millions of high-quality images from more than 50 international collections. Images are rights-cleared for educational use, so students and teachers are free to use them for school projects.
  • Pathways: Science: An inquiry-based, collaborative classroom program designed to overcome scientific misconceptions.
  • SmartMath Practice: a fun and adaptive math practice program for grades K-8.
  • 21st Century Explorer: an information and research collection for struggling readers in middle school and high school.
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