What do ELT's Big Four (Oxford, Cambridge, Macmillan and Pearson) have in the works for 2011? English Raven takes a quick initial peep... Image: spitfirelas
Right, so they are the big movers and shakers in terms of what ends up in front of English language learners (and often what ends up happening methodology-wise) in so many contexts around the world.
Oxford University Press. Cambridge University Press. Macmillan. Pearson Longman.
Given we are heading into a new year now (and a new decade), I decided to take an online peep at the Big Four, and see what they appear to have on the go for English Language Teaching in 2011. They've got the money and the people and the means... so let's see them strut their stuff!
My criteria here was, admittedly, fairly specific and limited:
- How easy is it to find them online using basic search terms (in each case, I Googled the name of the publisher and attached ELT)?
- What do we see/find when we land on their ELT pages?
- How innovative and interesting do their coursework products appear to be as we head into a new year?
And of course, this is the highly subjective English Raven view...
So here is my quick take on each of the big four, tackled in random order.
1. Oxford University Press ELT
My Google search resulted in Oxford's ELT page as the first and very clear entry on the list, so all in all only 1 click away from Google to end up smack on Oxford's ELT page of offerings.
Nice, clean, well organised page. The big banner here was all about online English tests and online placement tests, so TESTING was very much the big first impression on Oxford's site. Looking down and about, I saw what I guess could be termed Oxford's usual ELT suspects: Headway and New English File very prominently featured.
A quick round of surfing through main links, and what I ended up with was a sense of a lot of old stuff being passed through new wardrobes. That in itself isn't necessarily a bad thing (it's important to constantly review and update good products with reliable track records), but I got a real sense of a publisher playing safe and digging in for the winter.
There were no exciting new courses/coursebooks or products on offer (based on the front and first few layers of pages), and I got no real sense of where Oxford is headed for the year ahead, other than to say "more of the same, just better" (and oh, lots of online testing stuff, too!). This isn't strictly the whole story for Oxford, as I know from some personal communication that some really outstanding ESP titles (as one example) have appeared. But latest innovations are absent from the main veneer of the central ELT website, and what's there looks just that little bit too stuffy and a trifle too same old.
English Raven's Grade: C
Recommendations: Take at least some risks, old chap! And give us some vision for a new year... There's nothing here that we couldn't see throughout last year, and a whole lot that we've been seeing on your site for many years. There comes a point where a reputation for conservatism and reliability just isn't quite enough... you risk boring us.
2. Cambridge University Press
Do not pass 'Go'. Do not collect 200 (million) dollars.
Even when I had finished negotiating the tedious quagmire of confusing Google search results (remember that I used "Cambridge University Press English Language Teaching"), I couldn't actually get the ELT page to load. And this is not the first time -- this has happened regularly for me over a period of years using different computers on different networks in different countries (all with super-fast connection speeds).
English Raven's Grade: F (Fail)
Recommendations: Get a proper website, ensure that it works properly, and do something about your page tagging for the search engines.
An enormously pleasurable experience following the Cambridge Quagmire: Macmillan came up instantly and clearly in the search engine results, and I found myself on a page that... well... was downright EXCITING!
This publisher is evidently on the ball and moving ahead. Their website features course materials that are obviously very new and in most cases very original.
The main banner announced a series of coursebooks called "Gateway", which I clicked through to and found a very nicely presented page that loaded really quickly. It is a series for secondary school students due to start rolling out in early 2011, and they've already got a ton of great samples and reference materials ready for it to whet teachers' appetites. Nice looking series, though I was hit with the impression that what Macmillan labels "A2" in the CEFR is a pretty ambitious interpretation of that level (I got that impression with the leveling in Global as well -- seems Macmillan pitches its levels slightly ahead of the CEFR bands, in my opinion, but it's not something I object to as I would prefer to see coursebooks challenge rather than spoon-feed).
Going back to the main page, I also saw our friend Global featured, as well as an intriguing new series called Open Mind. Using the front page and available menu options, the only way I was able to get a better look at Open Mind was to click on the "BUY" button (something I wasn't especially keen to do as a browser), and then go to a page and look for links back to the general series description. Looking at the sample units, this strikes me as being a genuinely exciting series, with brilliant layout and presentation, and a very welcome focus on life skills. It's a series I would be genuinely interested in trying out with ESOL students here in Australia.
Macmillan's website and offerings for 2011 look great, with genuinely new stuff and more than a dash of innovation and thinking outside the regular big publishing box. If you're looking for one of the big publishers to follow and get some exciting new offerings from this year, I would say Macmillan is your best bet.
English Raven's Grade: A
Recommendations: Don't stop now! Onwards and upwards! Just get rid of that "BUY" tag for those great new series on your front page and provide a clearer click through menu that will allow teachers to see some of those fantastic samples and support sites with a minimum of online foraging. But your new publications (Gateway, Global and OpenMind) look genuinely innovative and exciting -- nice work!
4. Pearson Longman
Pearson's ELT site was super-easy to find through Google: crystal clear entry straight at the top of the list.
Clicking through to the main site, I was impressed with how well this voluminous publishing company has managed to pull together most of its disparate products and priorities into one easy-to-navigate central site (a couple of years ago it used to resemble something more like the Cambridge Quagmire).
The first thing I noticed was the collection of free lesson materials, clearly sorted into categories. That's a nice thing for a teacher to notice first up when they land on a publisher's homepage... There also appears to be a genuine effort on the part of Pearson to encourage and build something in the way of an online community of teachers. It's not entirely clear how it all fits together (at a glance) but the effort and priority is apparent. So free resources and a community: interesting new marketing direction.
However, there were no exciting new series to see on the main pages, and I had to click through to the catalogue link. There I found some disappointment, as the catalogue page looks exactly as it has done for the past 3-4 years at least. No new products to see, no new or more intuitive categorisation of the materials.
I went back to the home page again and followed one of the big menu options through to the Secondary section (the other being Primary). More resources here, and also a featured title: UpBeat (for teenagers). Right, here's one of the future movements of this publisher, so let's check it out...
UpBeat is a seriously poor publication -- very much of the "Emperor's got no clothes" sort. It's typical of series made for teenagers that fall flat because they basically try too hard (and yet too little), and it's obvious they're made by people who don't know much about teenagers, but think that they do on account of some seriously slick production and images. I don't want to go on too much about it, other than to say it was bit like seeing your dear old Uncle Bob turn up at your sixteenth birthday party (where anyone who is anyone from school is already hitting the dance floor) with a bandana and an armful of random Hip Hop CDs he'd picked up in a service station on the way over.
And the methodology there... oh my oh my -- I've never seen such a curious combination of retroactive methodology with proactive (but over-done) production style. Okay, I said I wouldn't go on about it, didn't I? Go take a look for yourself and tell me if I'm overreacting. And for good measure, check out the "Motivator" supplements they've made for the series, and tell me if you've ever seen anything less likely to motivate teenage learners of English...
Given this was my taste of what Pearson is producing for 2011, I can't say I left the site all that impressed. However, credit where it is due, Pearson has pulled together a pretty solid and useful website for teachers, is working hard on building an online community for ELTers, and is -- well, presenting itself as a place to get quality free resources.
English Raven's Grade: C
Recommendations: The grade might have been a little higher if I'd been using other criteria, but a quick visit to your main site doesn't show much at all in terms of innovative new coursework products, and I'm sorry, but the one I ended up looking at was an absolute shocker. If you're going to bring out a spanking new series, follow Macmillan's lead. Otherwise, revamp something like Post Cards (which I always thought was an excellent series for teenagers) in the spirit of Oxford ("same stuff just better and better"). Even better, show us you have some vision for 2011 and want to lead us to some new destinations and options.
So there you have it, folks, my summary of what I've seen and how I've seen it from the Big Four ELT publishers.
My money's on Macmillan for "Big ELT Publisher of the Year 2011"...