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Ground-breaking ESL textbooks recognized at New York gala

Schomberg native James Rice (right) and partner Jamie Matechuk, won a prestigious award for their digital textbook series.


By Mark Pavilons

A King native has received a prestigious honour for contributing to modern learning techniques.

The Study It English as a Second Language digital textbook series, written by Schomberg native James Rice and colleague Jamie Matechuk, won a 2015 Digital Book Award in New York. The ground-breaking digital textbook series was recognized by the publishing world as the best enhanced digital academic book.

The winners were announced at a gala dinner in New York City Jan. 15.

“We are thrilled and quite surprised,” said an overjoyed Rice. “To be honoured in the company of all these large publishing houses is overwhelming.”

The Digital Book Awards are the biggest digital publishing award in the world. Over 10,000 books were submitted. The keynote speaker was Walter Issacson the author of the Steve Jobs biography and the CEO of CNN.

They were nominated in the Academic category and some of the other books in other categories included Scooby Doo series, Sesame Street series, Rick Riodan.

Digital books represent over 50% of books sold in the world. This is a new frontier for publishing and we are excited to be recognized as a pioneer.

The award and nomination was a surprise to them, Rice said.

The duo operate Connect School of Languages and just wanted to make a better textbook.

“I think we won the award to show publishers that they can do better in the textbook market. Textbooks can be reinvented to provide more engaging content. That is all we were trying to do for our students,” Rice said.

Since the nomination they have been featured on Canada AM; numerous teachers contacted them, a school in Ecuador run by Canadians have visited them and school boards have asked questions about creating a mobile strategy for education.

“So we have been busy,” he observed.

Heralded as “the textbook for the future,” these texts  are digital, mobile, interactive and updatable. The Study It textbooks are a customized set of interactive English Language multi-touch books and are available for download on iTunes. Connect has published over 50 different digital textbooks available for students and teachers. There are eight levels of grammar, eight levels of conversation, a listening series and a Business English series.

“I wish we could say we had one moment of elation but we didn't. We had dozens of moments of elation. We have been working for two years on the books. Not only creating them but testing them and piloting them in the classroom and when something we created works well in the classroom, it is an unbelievable feeling. So the challenge for us to always try to create and invent some different activity that teachers can use to make learning more engaging,” Rice said.

Connect is a 1:1 iPad school so all of its students have iPads now and are using their textbooks. Currently, the texts are only available to use on the iPad, Macbook or iMac.

“What we see the students doing with the content from our books is just incredible. We give students and teachers ideas to create projects and lessons that speak to the googled learner. These projects include creating short videos with iMovie or making a Podcast with Garageband. Students are motivated to use the technology that is part of their everyday lives.

“The challenge for teachers is to throw away their past traditional ways. They need to learn with the students so instead of being a sage on the stage where they know everything to being more of a guide on the side. Someone who can help and learn alongside students,” Rice noted.

The books are aimed at the high school level and above, but younger students take to it like ducks to water. Rice's own kids they completed the activities in minutes.

“What it showed me was how fast kids get it. How fast they can learn the activities and understand the activities. So we had to go back and create more activities that were more complex,” he said.

For the older demographic, they find the books a challenge because they are used to paper textbooks. Rice said they are motivated to learn how to use the content and the iPad.

Rice pointed out this technology is relatively new. The iPad itself is only four years old and the software they're using is three years old.

“Interactive technology is vastly different from mobile technology. Having the ability to do projects, tests and assignments, anywhere, anytime. It is revolutionary in education. Students do not need to sit behind rows of PCs to do their work. They don't need to carry a heavy laptop around and sit behind a computer screen. We can actually remove technology such as smart boards, DVDs, CDs, projectors – all these technological impediments to the teacher and student relationship – we can remove these things from the classroom. “

Rice pointed out you don't need WiFi to use their books, other than to download them.

They can also update them anytime and users received the updates free.

“Imagine how many textbooks we have used over time and thrown them away because they are simply old and out-of-date. Our books are never out-of-date.

“And finally, through our website, teachers can provide new ideas, questions and updates that we have never considered. So we can create an eco system for teachers to share their knowledge and provide a better educational experience for their students.

“So I would argue that we have had a major paradigm shift in how to present content to students. Now, we need to make content for this new generation of learners.”

Rice said they're looking to add their books to other platforms such as Android and Kindle.

Connect School of Languages is an English as a Second Language school in Toronto. They operate year-round and the textbook series was built for the ESL world. Since starting the process two years ago, building the books has taken more of their time but “our passion is still in teaching and improving the classroom experience for students and teachers.”

Rice hails from Schomberg and enjoyed minor sports in King growing up. Rice's father was a former Township employee and was a volunteer firefighter. His brother and his family also live in Schomberg.

For more information about Connect's innovative ESL textbook series or to a request a free copy please visit For more information about Connect School of Languages and how they are using the iPad in the classroom with the Study It series visit



Excerpt: A King native has received a prestigious honour for contributing to modern learning techniques.

Post date: 2015-02-25 09:50:36
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