Artificial Intelligence and the Case of Disappearing Textbooks
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Artificial Intelligence and the Case of Disappearing Textbooks

Artificial Intelligence

Guest Contribution by Harish Agrawal

Even Hogwarts Aren’t Using Textbooks Anymore. Here’s Why.

Did we catch your attention? Did we just hear students cheering? They should. The world of educational publishing is finally recognizing student needs and preferences, and reinventing the way they learn. Don’t believe us? Believe the BBC, which announced in July 2019 that one of the largest textbook publishers in the world, Pearsons, will be phasing out phase out print textbooks.

The education sector is embracing the digital revolution like never before. And, it’s about time too. The millennials were the first digital natives, born in the internet era and use technology for all their needs, including education. Today’s students, Gen Z, are a step ahead. They feel incomplete without their mobile device attached to the end of their arm.

It is this mobile device that they turn to when they need information, except, of course, if you are a student at Hogwarts. But that could change soon too! This has led to a sea change across all stages of the publishing chain, from the way in which books are published to the way they are distributed, sold and consumed.

Having said that, digital publishing comes with its own set of challenges, not the least of which are discoverability of content and piracy. The good news is that the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its myriad applications have brought solutions for many of the problems plaguing publishers and their digital transformation. With AI, the move of the education sector away from print textbooks and toward digital, multimedia content, has been eased. Here’s how.

Chatbots

Chatbots have been creating quite the buzz, ever since Apple launched Siri in 2010. As of 2019, there are more than 34,000 such bots waiting to greet you. Apart from providing excellent customer support, chatbots can also be a powerful engagement tool. With the use of chatbots, publishers can ensure an interactive and personalized experience for each learner.

Readers can also find out more about the author, characters, titles and even additional information on a topic, with the help of the bot. Moreover when the student needs a specific question answered from the book, chatbots ( with the help of the AI / NLP engine behind ) could directly answer the question the student has instead of a traditional search that could show the student’s 100s of search results.

User Analytics

This field of AI makes use of the current and historical data to make predictions of a reader’s future behavior. Machine learning is helping publishers determine the types of content that tend to be more engaging for their target readers.

Publishers can also use AI for finding the correct audience for their titles. So, if the content consumption analytics reveal that a specific set of students prefer explainer videos or micro-learning content, textbook authors and publishers can leverage these content formats to get better consumption results. This, in turn, could also help improve learning outcomes, given that engagement with the content leads to better learning.

Such analytics can also help with more efficient promotion of the content and better targeting, giving a significant edge over the competition. For instance, The New York Times is already using deep learning to drive subscriptions and engagement via curated content.

Natural Language Processing

Besides detecting plagiarism, Natural Language Processing can help in automating the workflow for publishers, scholars, and authors. NLP combines machine learning with grammar analysis, which helps the system recognize the structure of sentences as well as their meaning.

With the help of NLP, tedious activities, such as editing and formatting, can be automated, allowing textbook authors to focus their energy on the creation of quality content. This results in a reduction in errors as well as time savings. With the use of AI and NLP, the total time in publishing can be reduced by as much as 30% to 40%, according to an article on Cenveo Publisher Services.

NLP is also being successfully used to index content and make it easily searchable, which comes as a great advantage for the end-user. No longer do students need to turn page after page to find a specific bit of information in a textbook. Hermione almost seems obsolete!

Image Recognition

An efficient solution for the storage of images that allows for a better and quicker file search is one of the major challenges faced by publishers. Another challenge is the manual tagging of images which requires a lot of routine work and is prone to human error. Also, extensive image archives that don’t have associated metadata are meaningless, making it almost impossible for the publisher to monetize proprietary content.

This is where AI-powered digital management systems come to the rescue. Services such as Google Vision, Clarifai and Amazon Image Rekognition are self-taught to recognize and distinguish physical objects, such as faces, landmarks, and properties, and add them as tags to the metadata of the file.

Does all this make you nostalgic about that new textbook smell or trying to read without cracking the spine? Worried all the time turners were broken during the legendary battle at the Ministry of Magic and you might never be able to go back to that time? Don’t worry, the way technology is moving, AI and VR might just come together to give you that experience too, digitally! For now, the digital transformation and AI are together offering textbook publishers the means to remain relevant in a rapidly changing world.

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Harish Agrawal is a director of product management at Magic EdTech. He is involved in conceptualizing and implementing a complete product strategy for all products developed under the product group. He has written extensively on education and learning.

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