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Every day in classrooms around the world, teachers prepare lesson plans and handouts, display posters and maps, show slides and refer to textbooks.

What if all this material could be customized to fit the particular needs of each class? What if a teacher could create individual student workbooks so that the fastest learners could tackle more complex problems in their homework?

Photo of Henry Sang And what if this mother lode of material could be saved and shared with other teachers, who could pick and choose what worked for their classes and add their own materials?

HP Labs researchers are inventing a system that would allow teachers to do just that. It would let teachers -- and the rest of us -- quickly, easily and cheaply create booklets, slides, Web sites, videos and other materials customized for a specific individual, group, event or purpose.

Multimedia in minutes

By mixing and matching content from a variety of sources, users could produce marketing collateral tailored to specific customers, event posters, customized training videos or slides, personal albums of vacation photographs and memories, workbooks for individual students and lots more.

"We're trying to do for publishing what the laser printer did for office printing -- make it accessible to anyone," says Henry Sang, the researcher managing the project. "Custom publishing is the democratization of publishing. What custom publishing really means is customer publishing."

Daily acts of invention

Sang and his team in the Imaging Systems Lab chose to work with teachers (kindergarten through high school) because schools are relatively untouched by new teaching technologies, aside from the addition of computers to some classrooms. The group is working with educators around the United States to develop an instructional materials system that fits their needs.

The goal: to help teachers do what they do best -- educate by telling stories -- by providing them with meaningful, creative, easily accessible and easy-to-use materials that bring these stories to life.

"Teachers use materials as props for telling stories," says Sang. "We want to help them create and tell those stories easily."

Keeping materials current

With the HP Labs system, teachers will be able to access databases full of images, lesson plans and other content to create fresh, professional-looking workbooks and other classroom and student material.

Quote: 'Were trying to do for publishing what the laser printer did for office printing -- make it accessible to anyone says researcher Henry Sang'

Much of the content would come from other teachers, who would provide best-in-class lesson plans and materials that educators from around the world could tap into.

In this way, teachers can easily keep materials current, benefit from the insights of other teachers and continue to improve and weave their "stories."

"Invention is happening in the classroom every day", Sang says. "It's our goal to perpetuate these daily acts of invention."

Making it work

Here's how it would work: Let's say the class is learning the different classifications of animals, and the next session covers invertebrates. Using the instructional materials system, the teacher locates photos of worms, mollusks and arthropods, and creates and prints a poster to hang in front of the class.

Next, the instructor discovers a workbook created by a teacher in another country that kids can take home and use to compare with insects in their neighborhood.

"Ah, perfect!" the teacher says, printing a batch for the class. After students turn in their workbooks, the instructor prints their photos and displays them around the classroom.

"One of our challenges in schools is that of engaging students in meaningful ways with the curriculum," says Van Adams, principal of Kennedy Middle School in Cupertino, Calif., USA. "Immediacy and flexibility, the empowerment for students to respond creatively and in depth -- all these are fostered by custom publishing."

Challenges ahead

The system incorporates a wealth of HP products and technologies, from servers to printers to HP Instant Delivery and HP Books on Demand. Among the challenges are figuring out how to take apart documents -- use a photo from one and a graph from another, for instance -- and keep the integrity of the format of each piece. Another challenge: integrating the stored content in this system with external systems containing information and images a teacher might want to use.

Researchers are testing the custom publishing system within HP Labs and also trying it out on some sales and marketing materials within HP.

This system is just one of the experiments underway at HP to better understand how to help integrate technology into the learning environment, says Gregg Peters, the company's national education business manager.

"We want to help teachers integrate technology as a tool to engage students in learning and to address different styles of learning," he comments. "We want to figure out how to pull together all of this information that's available to teachers on the Internet in a way that's meaningful to them."

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