The Search for Quality Content: Smart Options for Product Developers

Guest blog post by Bonnie Dobkin, Vice President of Education, Cricket Media

If you’re in educational publishing, you’re probably painfully familiar with the challenges of finding quality content for use in your programs. It’s a bit like searching for hidden treasure: you wander through a daunting wilderness of potential sources, hoping to find that perfect jewel of a selection. But sometimes you search and dig and you come up with nothing but a useless rock.

There are ways, though, to make the search a much less onerous experience, and to ensure that you DO find the riches you’re looking for. 

1. Choose the right search team
Searching for content is both an art and a science. It requires a knowledge of standards and curriculum, an instinct for the kinds of resources that are likely to yield good results, and a talent for using search engines effectively. Not everyone has that skill set. So find the most experienced researchers you can. 

2. Know what you need
Even the best search team needs a clear understanding of what you’re looking for. Put together a checklist that contains such information as 

  • Purpose (to teach a particular reading skill, for use in assessment. A good researcher will evaluate content based on that need.)
  • Topic/subject (or topics to avoid)
  • Genre
  • Format (letter, journal, newspaper article)
  • Target age/grade
  • Lexile/Word Count
  • Visual requirements
  • Special criteria (paired selections showing different points of view, for example)

Cricket Media Chart for Content Selection

And don’t forget subtler requirements that less experienced researchers may not be aware of, or that are specific to something like assessment items: 

  • can be read and understood without prior knowledge
  • is accessible to a diverse audience
  • is free of bias/sensitivity issues
  • is “evergreen”—won’t become dated.

3. Know your sources
There are a number of different categories of sources, each with its own pros and cons.

Public Domain: Selections in public domain are openly available to everyone, not subject to copyright protection, and free. Works become part of the public domain when the original author places his/her own works in that category, or when the work reaches the expiration of the copyright or is no longer owned by original author. Sources for public domain include the National Archives and Library of Congress, Project Gutenberg, and many government sites.

Pros

  • Authentic content and sophisticated texts
  • Good for historical documents and classic literature
  • Sources like government sites can yield high interest material on current topics.

Cons

  • Vocabulary and cultural references, especially in older literary pieces, may not be accessible to many students, especially ELL or struggling readers.
  • Some material listed as public domain actually isn’t. Always double check.
  • Video, particularly films, can be very dated

Open Source: Open Source material is developed by groups and individuals and offered free for public use. Open Educational Resources (OER) is perhaps the best known of these.

Pros

  • Written by educators, for educators
  • Creative materials and lesson plans

Cons

  • Primarily a source of lesson plans and activities
  • Although sometimes vetted or curated, the quality is uneven
  • Many reading passages do not meet publishers’ criteria that content be  “authentic” - previously published in an established, reputable book, magazine, or website
  • Passages that are authentic but not in the public domain cannot be used for commercial purposes.

Publishers: With publishers, you’re going straight to the source, e.g., book publishers, or magazine publishers like Cricket Media or National Geographic. 

Pros

  • Authentic, previously published text
  • Respected names and brands that add value to your own content
  • Reliable—materials are usually fact checked and have gone through multiple edits

Cons

  • Certain publishers (or the authors they represent) do not allow edits of any kind, or insist that their format be kept intact.
  • Some publishers (still) do not grant web rights.
  • Some have a very lengthy permission process: your product can be near completion before you find out permission was denied.

So, to save yourself time and headaches:

  • Check out each publisher’s general licensing guidelines before using it as a source. (Cricket Media, for example, owns its selections and illustrations and can grant immediate permission.)
  • Call the publisher’s R&P group to do a preliminary check on popular authors.

Digital Asset Libraries
Many publishers as well as university, government, and state organizations, place content into libraries accessible to anyone anywhere through digital connections. EBSCO and Merlot are two examples. Cricket Media also has its own digital asset library. Get familiar with their search engines and know how to use the filters creatively: combine higher grades with low lexiles for hi-lo product; run the same searches with two different genres to find paired selections.

So the next time you head off on a search for quality content, remember:

  1. Select the best search team.
  2. Clearly define your needs.
  3. Choose the right source.

You’ll be amazed at how quick and successful your search can be! 

For more information on Simplifying the Search for Quality Content, view blog post author Bonnie Dobkin’s 30 minute, on-demand, complimentary webinar on the subject, hosted by Cricket Media.

Bonnie Dobkin, Vice President of Education for Cricket Media is an accomplished publishing professional who has spent over three decades in the educational publishing field, working to bring the best possible instructional materials to teachers and their students. At Cricket Media, Bonnie leads the Education team in developing or supporting the company’s many products, from its award-winning children’s magazines to its innovative Global Community.

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