Like other markets that are information intensive, the educational arena is hot. The Internet has provided the channel for information dissemination, e-commerce, interactive learning and sharing, and innovative educational products. The K-12 marketplace is now attracting some interesting providers of content and services, each looking to become the destination of choice for the vast millions involved in education.
EBSCO Publishing has just announced the release of WEB4STUDY.COM, a free Web resource that aims to provide assistance to students, parents, and teachers seeking access to quality educational information (http://www.web4study.com). Mark Herrick, vice president of business development at EBSCO, said the company wanted to provide a free Web offering that would complement its suite of subscription-based products for the K-12 marketplace. Like other portals, it uses ad sponsorship and e-commerce to help pay for the site.
The site offers an online study guide for students that is navigable by subject or grade level and is searchable. The section for parents offers practical tips on helping children learn, on corresponding with teachers, on dealing with problems and special needs, and on finding sources of information. The section for teachers provides information on lesson plans, tests and classroom projects, strategies for working in the classroom, student behavior, educational theory and techniques, and working with gifted and special needs kids. There is also a section on pre-school learning and another on higher education that includes college-planning information.
At this point, the content mostly consists of links to appropriate, reliable Web sites, and some of the sections are quite thin. Herrick noted that it is a work in progress and that its team of editors would be adding proprietary content to the site. About 1,000 biographical and historical essays are currently available in the History section, and additional essays and background information are expected for other areas. Full text journal content from the EBSCOhost service is not included, though Herrick said they would probably make some selected journal articles available later, depending upon publisher agreements.
The WEB4STUDY.COM site joins a number of others competing for educational users, but each has a specific approach. K12Planet (http://www.k12planet.com), from Chancery Software, serves as a secure connection for parents, teachers, and students to share information on class grades, attendance information, curriculum resources, homework assignments, and school activities, and is supported by learning resources from the Gale Group.
Another educational portal formed by Infonautics and Bell & Howell Information and Learning, called bigchalk.com, launched earlier this year and aims to sign up schools for subscriptions to its proprietary research products, ProQuest and eLibrary (http://www.bigchalk.com).
Actually, one of the most helpful educational sites I've found is at About.com, a network of sites led by expert guides (http://home.about.com/education). With so many specialty portals out there, it's hard to remember that About.com is an excellent starting place for many topics. I looked for information about SAT tests and about Huckleberry Finn, and was carefully guided to authoritative and comprehensive Web resources.
Finally, proving just how much interest and activity there is in the K-12 marketplace, AOL has announced a free new service for schools, AOL@School (http://www.school.aol.com), a group of six Internet portals that aggregate educational content and offer communication among teachers, administrators, parents, and students. AOL is offering schools the free software client that has built-in filters and safety controls. The age-specific portals will provide links to carefully selected quality sites as well as reference and research tools.
So, users continue to have an increasing range of products to help them sift through to quality information. And information providers have a constantly shifting (and confusing?) landscape of partnership and distribution opportunities.