Canada’s Top Hat Acquires the US’ Bluedoor, as Teaching Modes Shift

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Following its acquisition of Nelson’s higher-education publishing business, Top Hat adds Bluedoor’s science-focused content to its platform operations in the digital higher-education space.

Image – iStockphoto: K Zenon

By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson

‘To Strengthen Our Market Position’
In its acquisition of Minneapolis-based Bluedoor Publishing, announced this morning (August 25), Toronto’s Top Hat—a platform for higher education content—reports that more than 400 labs and course materials are being added to its inventory.

The move represents the kind of dynamic being driven in the first year of the novel coronavirus COVID-19’s assault. The very first thing both companies’ sites tell you is that their educational products and delivery are built for “online, blended, and face-to-face courses” (at Top Hat) and “online, blended, or in-class” (Bluedoor).

Ready for today’s announcement, Bluedoor’s site announces, “We provide professors with access to Top Hat, a powerful platform to engage, motivate, and assess students using easy-to-use teaching tools.”

Focused in science disciplines, the publisher offers “off-the-shelf national solutions” and “labs that can be customized down to the letter” in anatomy and physiology, biology, chemistry, microbiology, veterinary technology, and other disciplines, all ostensibly ready to follow students home from universities closing amid outbreaks of the contagion, or to ramp up into physical classroom training if feasible.

While financial details of the acquisition aren’t being revealed in today’s news, Top Hat converts Bluedoor’s print-only content into what it describes as interactive digital courseware, “ensuring that educators who adopt these titles will now be able to engage and motivate students in any teaching environment, whether online or in-person, synchronous or asynchronous, at a time of great uncertainty in higher education brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Prior to Bluedoor, Top Hat announced in May that it was buying the domestic higher-education textbook business of Toronto neighbor Nelson—which would go on two days later to announce that it was divesting itself of its distribution, as well, in a deal with the American digital-education giant Cengage. Nelson, then, remained focused only in the K-12 sector and Cengage could establish its Canadian publishing and textbook business directly.

Mike Silagadze

In a prepared statement for the news media today, Top Hat CEO Mike Silagadze is quoted, saying, “Bluedoor has a stellar reputation as an expert in educational content for the sciences.

“Our partnership has evolved into a perfect fit for Bluedoor to join Top Hat and strengthen our market position in the science disciplines.”

Speaking for Bluedoor, CEO Jon Earl is quoted, saying, “At Bluedoor, our focus has always been on empowering educators with flexible high-quality content.

“By joining Top Hat and transforming our content into interactive digital courseware on its all-in-one platform, we can enable more educators to deliver their courses effectively and bring active learning to life for their students.”

Surveying the Upheaval in Higher Education

Top Hat, earlier this month, offered results of its own survey on COVID-19 faculty preparedness—not a survey independently conducted, to be clear—showing that “Fewer than one in five instructors are receiving institutional support with technology for all their classes.” alongside the telling point that “With just a few weeks left until the new school year, two out of five respondents report little to no clarity around what the learning experience will look like.”

The survey was run between July 13 and 19 and had 808 responses from higher educational faculty members and instructional support staffers, 85 percent of them in the States, and 14 percent from Canada and other locations. The institutions involved were 45 percent four-year public schools, 30 percent four-year private schools, and 25 percent two-year public programs.

Not surprisingly, faculty members and staffers, for the most part, reported a lack of clarity about plans for the coming academic autumn, a majority reporting dissatisfaction with their schools’ stated plans for the fall.

Image: Top Hat

In reference to the ongoing world public-health emergency, Top Hat’s Silagadze says, “The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the urgent need for a substantial overhaul of the traditional textbook industry.

“Prior to the pandemic, we were already seeing the digital transformation of educational content. The events of the last few months have drastically accelerated that shift to help students overcome heightened challenges associated with the cost, accessibility, and relevance of print textbooks.”

There is, of course, also the aspirational component to the sorts of ownership moves involved here: “Once the crisis has ended,” Silagadze says, “both educators and students are not likely to forget the improved learning experience offered by interactive digital content. Every traditional publisher needs a digital distribution strategy—Top Hat makes that possible, with the added benefit of a proven active learning platform designed to improve student outcomes.”

Styling itself as “the only all-in-one courseware program that enables active learning,” Top Hat reports that “millions of students” use its systems “at 750 leading North American colleges and universities.”

At this writing, the 8:38 a.m. ET update (1238 GMT) of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center cites 127,594 COVID-19 cases in Canada in a population of 38 million, with 9,129 deaths. In the United States, 5,741,189 cases are reported, with 177,284 fatalities in a population of 328 million.

Top Hat’s demo video is here:


More from us on mergers and acquisitions is here, more on education and publishing is here, more on the Canadian market is here, more on the United States’ market is here, and more from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here and at the CORONAVIRUS tab at the top of each page of our site.

About the Author

Porter Anderson

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Porter Anderson has been named International Trade Press Journalist of the Year in London Book Fair's 2019 International Excellence Awards. He is Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. He co-founded The Hot Sheet, a newsletter for trade and indie authors, which now is owned and operated by Jane Friedman. He formerly was Associate Editor for The FutureBook at London's The Bookseller. Anderson also has worked as a senior producer, editor, and anchor with CNN.com, CNN International, and CNN USA, and as an arts critic (National Critics Institute) with The Village Voice and Dallas Times Herald.

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