What Your Development Team Needs to Know to Convert Print Content into an edTech Tool

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

Transforming a print product into an edTech tool is a big undertaking.

To make it all happen, you’ll likely need lots of new people on your team. This includes developers who can help you identify exciting new technology opportunities, as well as a UX team who understands the changing needs of teachers and students.

Because of the pandemic, teachers and students have become more sophisticated users of technology. Meanwhile, consumers are on the hunt for learning products that offer the students in their family something more than a print book or workbook. 

This means product owners have an incredible opportunity to deliver learning content that was originally developed for print in a new and innovative way. Together with your UX team, your development team will be the driving force behind this process.

To illuminate all the work that goes into converting print content into a digital tool, we spoke with Jessie Dib, the VP & Director of Publishing Technology at Atomic Software. From identifying exciting technology opportunities to re-sequencing your content, here’s everything you need to know about digital content conversion.

What It Really Takes to Tag and Convert Print Content into a Digital Edtech Tool

Any print content you have was likely created in InDesign or another design program created with print publications in mind. 

In order to make these files useful in a digital context, you’ll need the help of a specialized development team to inventory, tag, and convert all of your media into a database-ready format.

This is a deeply collaborative undertaking, and the work of specialized developers often overlaps with the work of UX designers. Similarly, the way UX designers conceive of digital user experiences inspires a development team’s analysis or strategy.

At Backpack Interactive, we work with partners like Atomic to guide clients through this time-consuming and labor-intensive process. 

Analyzing and marking up print content, creating database-ready files, and transforming published print materials into a digital product is a major job. “There’s a lot of time and effort involved in setting a project like this up right,” says Dib. 

But there’s value in doing that work, Dib assures us. “Putting in that time up front saves clients time and cost in the future,” she adds. “A lot of times you risk saving cost by saving time first. In the long run, you have to fix things that you didn’t set up in the beginning.”

Dib and her team specialize in guiding educational publishers to design the best systems for digital transformation—even if they’re still publishing print content. This process includes:

• Analyzing content from a user’s point of view

• Mapping out content templates

• Creating and following content templates

• Extracting content from templates into a database

• Testing and validating content structure

• Transferring content to the developer

Before Dib and her team start tagging print content, they go deep on analysis.  “We really need to understand what the content is,” says Dib. “How did the authors write it? What did they mean? How do students read it? How will they use this content digitally? 

“We always work with an editor or a content expert to guide us through the process,” she continues. Only after in-depth content analysis can Dib’s team start to map and tag content within templates that aid with the content extraction process.

How Metatags Drive Features in Your New Digital Tool

Metatagging reveals the relationships between each piece of content, including sequential difficulty and related content. By strategically tagging each piece of content in your templates, your development team organizes the data for your product in a database-friendly way. 

A user-centered taxonomy of your content also sets teachers and learners up to access content in a more helpful way. Encourage your UX team to work closely with your development team throughout the metatagging process. They might consider questions like:

• What’s a teacher doing when they’re looking at a specific piece of content? 

• What do they need to do? 

• When do they need to do it? 

When you develop descriptive and user-centered taxonomies, you serve both students and teachers content that supports them at every step of their experience.

In a reading product, for example, the ability to tag and categorize books might help teachers make better reading recommendations. Students may also wish to browse content by a variety of criteria, such as interest or reading level.

Additionally, strategic tagging makes it possible to develop algorithms that support adaptive content. For example, if a student experiences difficulty answering a series of math problems, your product might suggest problems that help them review concepts or take a step back from difficult content. 

All this is only possible if you’ve strategically tagged your content from the very beginning of the development process.

3 User-Centered Approaches to Digital Content Creation

Once your content is tagged with common search terms that establish relationships between your entire library, you’ll be ready to think about content in a user-friendly way. 

This is where your UX team steps in to envision how users might want to access your content as they move through their user journey. 

By creating linear and non-linear experiences for teachers and students, you’ll be able to deliver content at the moment it’s needed most. In a digital product, you have the opportunity to:

1. Re-sequence your learning content

Your print content was collected and arranged into a specific order. Now that you’re building a digital product, you have an opportunity to re-imagine how a user might move through that same content.

For example, you may want to structure content that will work well for a first-time user. As users become more comfortable with your product, however, they may wish to skip beginner steps. How can you be more flexible in the sequencing of your original content in this new digital context?

2. Provide users opportunities to customize their content

Adopting a non-linear approach to content may not have been your print author’s original intent. However, when you’re more flexible with content delivery, you give your users opportunities to customize their experiences within your product.

For example, you may have users who are more experienced teachers. They’ll want to pick and choose activities, examples, or instructional sequences. On the other hand, teachers at the beginning of their careers may want to step through content in a straight-forward sequence, or stay on a recommended path. Consider how to support both of these kinds of users throughout your product build.

3. Integrate professional development and other forms of support

The more flexible you are in re-imagining the sequence of your learning content, the easier it will be to integrate support for both teachers and students.

For example, your product might contain professional development content related directly to your curriculum. With tips, self-assessment tools, and coaching videos, the teachers who use your tool will be better positioned to teach your curriculum with even greater fidelity.

Meanwhile, you might provide students at all levels with materials that support their learning. The better they understand your learning content, the easier it will be for them to develop additional knowledge on their own time within your product.

How Scholastic Transformed their Leveled Book Room Accelerator into a Searchable Library

In 2016, Scholastic approached us about translating a physical product, their Leveled Book Room Accelerator (LBA), into a digital tool for teachers. The LBA helps teachers create lessons for their students about a leveled book. 

Each print version of the LBA comes with hundreds of physical cards that provide teachers with instructional guidance.  With suggested lessons on everything from reading comprehension to vocabulary review, these cards help teachers group students and support student instruction.

To make a digital version of this product, we worked with Atomic to tag each physical teaching card. Then, Atomic wrote and tested a script that translated these tags into a digital database. Our meta-tagging strategy directly affects how teachers search for similar content within the digital product and makes instructional guidance instantly findable.

We also worked directly with Scholastic’s editorial team on tagging. This team had a strong point of view about how their content is related by level, genre, vocabulary skill, and comprehension concept. Their knowledge was indispensable for creating an incredible user experience. 

When editorial teams work with customers over long periods of time, they have incredible insights into user feedback. We strongly recommend leveraging your own editorial team’s knowledge about your print product to help with meta-tagging, search, and making your content usable.

Finally, we considered the relationship of content to mobile and desktop experiences. Because the LBA is most often used on teachers’ phones  or other mobile devices, we designed and optimized content differently for this experience. After all, there’s a wealth of information on each teaching card. By considering collapsible content areas and different subscription models for mobile devices, we made teaching content easier to digest on the go. 

The result is a highly usable, searchable, and mobile experience for teachers that no longer requires them to store and sort through hundreds of physical instructional cards. Instead, teachers can instantly pull up related content for their students and spend more classroom time on the students who need the most help.

As designers and product owners, we can do better than creating digital depositories for .PDF and video files. No matter what kind of edTech product you decide to build, your new digital content should add significant value to your author’s original print curriculum.

Teachers and students are sophisticated users of technology who expect interactive experiences that help them learn, teach, and grow. Your new edTech tool can be at the forefront of this shift in our industry—and meet users where they are right now.

Are you in the process of converting a print product into a digital tool? Contact us below to learn more about our process!

Let’s build the future of digital products together.