By Porter Anderson, Editor-in-Chief | @Porter_Anderson
Ferguson: ‘Active Learning’Another year, another acquisition. When last we heard from Toronto’s Top Hat—a platform for higher education content—it was a year ago, August 25, 2020. The company was announcing its buy of Minneapolis’ Bluedoor Publishing.
Today (August 26), it’s another acquisition, this time of Morton Publishing Company, an independent press in Englewood, Colorado, specialized in educational content for the sciences.
Top Hat, while not disclosing financial details of the deal, says that the purchase of Morton nets “more than 600 labs and course materials that are being converted into customizable digital courseware on Top Hat’s platform.”
This newly onboarded courseware is to be “infused with interactive elements to facilitate active learning.” Those interactive elements—reminding us of the days of “enhanced ebooks”—are said to include videos, simulations, “interactive homework questions,” and more. Needless to say, one potentially attractive point here is that teachers can utilize Top Hat’s or another platform of this kind, can operate in both the physical classroom and in a digital surrogate for the classroom during times of pandemic stress—something on many minds as the school year opens in many markets with many questions about how well in-person classes can fare.
Morton’s content is said by Top Hat to be used at more than 1,500 institutions in the United States. The acquisition is touted as making it possible for Morton and Top Hat to create interactivity from lab materials during the academic year.
In a prepared statement, Joe Rohrlich, Top Hat’s CEO, is quoted, saying, “We’ve worked closely with Morton’s team as a partner and now as part of the Top Hat platform to deliver modern student-centered learning experiences.
“We’ve been incredibly impressed with Morton’s commitment to going above and beyond for their customers. By coming together as one team, we’ll be able to facilitate creative, meaningful, and purposeful ways for even more students to learn the information and skills they need to succeed.”
And David Ferguson, president and CEO of Morton, says, “To be in a position to be acquired is a remarkable achievement.
“Since Doug Morton founded our company more than 40 years ago, Morton Publishing has prided itself on working with our authors to offer a dynamic catalog of products focused on delivering tools for active learning with sensible prices for students and instructors.
“Top Hat provides us the opportunity to meet the future with solutions that will only be possible using their best-in-class digital learning platform.”
Rohrlich: ‘Even When It’s Safe To Teach in Person’
Top Hat in February of this year announced raising US$130 million in series E financing. The company’s plan is to use that funding “to fast-track partnership and acquisition activities with traditional publishers to create more engaging and effective course experiences.” Last year, the company bought not only Bluedoor but also Fountainhead Press, having raised US$55 million in series D funding in February 2020.
Rohrlich speaks to a component of the speed of this development familiar to Publishing Perspectives readers, the digital acceleration prompted by the pandemic’s evolution.
“The COVID-19 pandemic,” he says, “has accelerated pressures on higher-education institutions to demonstrate value to students, who are increasingly facing challenges with the cost, accessibility, and relevance of their print course materials. In fact, our recent research has found that even when it’s safe to teach in person, more than half of students want to work with interactive textbooks that allow them to read and assess their learning as they go. ”
One of the key promotional points set out by Top Hat is that its digital platform is designed to be used by students not only outside of class but during it.
This, of course, can be understood in part as a talking point developed to stress the ongoing value of the approach even after pandemic restrictions on in-person classroom activities diminish and some students may feel less dependent on digital learning constructs.
Nevertheless, a small subset of North American students still may be electing to learn remotely. Lindsay Schnell at USA Today has reported this week that the drive to require vaccinations of university and college students has picked up the pace in its punitive stage. “Some schools are charting unvaccinated students thousands of dollars in coronavirus testing fees to remain on-campus this fall during the pandemic,” she writes. Campuses also are cutting off wi-fi access for unvaccinated students in some cases and simply disenrolling outright those refusing to be vaccinated.
The Top Hat system is said by the company to be in use at 750 North American universities and colleges. Demonstrations of its features are provided here in an overview page designed for educators.
More from us on the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on international book publishing is here.