That sends a shiver down my spine for a couple of reasons. The first is pedagogical. It reminds me of my experience years ago as a tutor on an Open University Masters course being told in a training session that tutors were forbidden to direct students’ reading beyond the OU materials provided. I was astonished, stated my view that the policy was stupid and ignored it. The OU materials were varied, of a very high standard and well integrated. But they presented a closed world of knowledge. Happily at some point later the OU saw that limiting students’ inquisitiveness, research skills and knowledge of the breadth of literature available in this way made no sense. Pearson’s notion of ‘personalised learning resources’ is potentially going much further down this road of branded, over-structured teaching provision: a modern-day form of programmed instruction with an edu-business twist.
And of course, apart from the lecturer’s own work, their “bespoke” books contain Pearson materials; for copyright reasons, Pearson would say. There are two case studies provided by Pearson to help sell this idea. One says “I was lucky because Pearson had all the cases I wanted”, and the other “It helped that Pearson had the content I needed.” Those two short case studies are worth reading (http://tinyurl.com/oqm5dup and http://tinyurl.com/nvf3qjs). In both of them “my Pearson account manager” is lauded. The imagery is the same in both: the lecturer having their hand held by the kindly account manager with the fabulous resources of benevolent Pearson making things better for lecturers and students.
Which brings me on to my second concern: the Pearsonisation of education: the spread of PearsonWorld. This is already extremely well advanced in the United States, with Pearson involved in school-level testing and provision of textbooks and other learning materials in a big way. The same is true of other parts of the world. Anna Hogan and Bob Lingard write extremely informatively about this in a number of different outputs for a variety of audiences (http://tinyurl.com/okujmxu and see references below). Edu-business of this kind is finding a benign environment in neo-liberal government regimes like those of the USA and the UK. And of course Pearson wants to extend the breadth and depth of its reach globally; to meet its goal of becoming “one globally connected company” as their 2013 annual report has it (p. 11).
Or of course students could make use of their university library, which is free at the point of use. Interestingly, the word “library” only crops up once in the two case studies, the Heriot-Watt one: “it’s nice to see students no longer relying on library copies.” I'm not so sure.
(Part 2 of this post suggests some alternative routes, if bespoke books for specific courses are your thing. There are other possibilities, I'm sure, so please point to them if you wish.)
Hogan, A., Lingard, B. and Sellar, S. (2015) Edu-businesses and education policy. Professional Voice, 10 2: 24-30. http://issuu.com/aeu-vic/docs/pv_10_2_complete_web
Hogan, A., Sellar, S. and Lingard, B. (2015). Network restructuring of global edu-business: the case of Pearson’s Efficacy Framework. In W. Au and J. J. Ferrare (Eds.), Mapping corporate education reform: power and policy networks in the neoliberal state (pp. 43-64) London, UK: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/products/9781138792005
Hogan, A. (2014) NAPLAN and the role of edu-business: new governance, new privatisations and new partnerships in Australian education policy. Australian Educational Researcher, 1-18. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s13384-014-0162-z
[i] Sales in 2013: £5.2 billion. Adjusted operating profit of only £871 million thanks to “tough trading” that year.