IATEFL 2018: Versioning coursebooks for different contexts: What, how and why? – Heather Buchanan and Julie Norton

Heather and Julie, some of the authors of Navigate, while at OUP came across a room that was full of different versions of Headway and this was quite a revelation to them. They wanted to find out more about it as there is not a lot written about it in the academic literature. Later in the session we will be doing some versioning but first we will hear about data collected based on three questions that were asked.

Versioning is making changes to a course book for particular conditions in a country or region. Can be categorised in three ways – market versioning (make it suitable for different countries/regions), customer versioning (for particular institutions who may request it) and cosmetic versioning (very small changes). Often retains branding and name but in some cases a completely different name. As the world and coursebooks become more globalised, versioning becomes less of an issue.

Task 1 – A double page spread from Headway elementary, to be adapted for the Middle East

  • can’t have women showing any flesh
  • no wine in the pictures
  • family is a safe area? not culturally offensive

…were ideas put forward.

Actual changes:

  • The vocabulary for boyfriend and girlfriend has gone, also the pictures
  • No asking the teacher questions
  • Names and images are different
  • People are all covered up
  • Fewer photographs, page looks simpler, more white space

This is not prescriptive, just an example.

Three research questions:

(H and J would like to add to the data if anyone in the audience/beyond has experience of versioning, via Skype interview.)

What is involved in versioning a coursebook?

It depends! Course content, language content, might be making it more suitable for SEN, the package might change (e.g. combing student book and workbook or adding an extra digital component), design and image might change (fewer photographs, clearer font), rubrics in L1 might be added. Publishing cycle might influence versioning, affecting the extent of the changes that can be made.

What roles do different stakeholders play in the process?

Same stakeholders are involved. It’s like making a mini-product. Local focus groups will have a lot of input. Authors will have different roles – the original authors might decide and implement changes or they might not be involved at all or it might be outsourced to local experts.

How is the original text changed in terms of cultural content, language, methodology and design, and why?

Package

Digital components may be customised, additional support may be added. For secondary versions, additional support is popular e.g. including dyslexia friendly fonts in reading texts. This may be required by the customers. Student book and workbook for Italian secondary schools is common.

Cultural content

Doesn’t only involve taking things out but also involves putting things in. This may be the case with national identity for example. Local festivals, traditions and places might be integrated. There was also a concern to make sure that world cultures are represented in a balanced way, as well as including the familiar. Sensitive topics had to be removed e.g. references to religion or alcohol. Gender representation may have to be looked at. Language content might need to be geared towards particular exams that students have to pass. Content for discussion topics would need to be carefully considered and appropriate.

In Headway Plus there are more photographs of males than of females in the book.

Language

Might include more exam practice. Language doesn’t change that much but the grammar syllabus might change e.g. in American courses book, the present perfect. Levels of formality might be different too – more direct in American versions. Accents needed to change and the audios to represent the right kind of cultures. Bilingual word lists could/should be added for certain markets. Phonemes/sound charts might be different too e.g. American vs British. Minor changes.

Methodology

An area you don’t tamper with so much. You start with the best fit so fewer changes are necessary but an example of a change could be including L1 rubrics, as in a German coursebook they looked at.

Design

Images change e.g. in terms of clothing. If there was foresight of a version becoming available, the photoshoot might be done with two shots for any given image. The covers tend to be recognisable for the brand similar but a little bit different. Where there is a script different, having more white space makes a big difference. In America there is a single column to a page usually while in the UK there are two. Changing accordingly may or may not happen. If multiple images aren’t comissioned at once, stock photos may be used instead. E.g. the example of the kitchen where in Headway + no people rather than with a bottle wine. Seamus McSporran with 13 jobs became the man with 12 jobs to eliminate the one where he delivers beer in a barrel!

Political Concerns

Versioning aims to make materials relatable but it involves representing the world in a particular way which raises political, ethical and commercial concerns. Coursebooks determine the nature of what is presented in the classroom. What about diversity and incidental representation – the question raised is “Could we have a little bit of diversity in the background perhaps? E.g. a wheelchair user in the background of a photo” – Would that be useful?

Comments on this was left for later on…

So where do we go from here?

Hugh told us that in the Belgian market has welcomed lots of traditionally “taboo” topics.  Versioning can enable this.

Another member suggested there is more scope for considering how to include diversity for a conservative market. Also Muslims need language to express I don’t eat/drink pork/alcohol because… However, another said that the Ministry of Education in Dubai would remove it and heads would roll.

I managed to squeeze in my question as the last of the day: Do publishers ever version course books for the UK? The response from the speakers and the audience was not to their knowledge…

And a final request:

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One thought on “IATEFL 2018: Versioning coursebooks for different contexts: What, how and why? – Heather Buchanan and Julie Norton

  1. Pingback: IATEFLections: a round-up for 2018 – Lizzie Pinard

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