Interview with Alastair Horne from CUP on collaboration within Publishing & Race to Learn

Cambridge University Press and the Williams F1 team collaborated in 2009 to create Race to Learn, a fun, engaging educational programme that fits into the national curriculum. I asked Alastair Horne, who was the project lead for Cambridge, about it.

Can you give us a brief insight into what the project is, who’s it for and how learners engage with it?
Race to Learn is cross-curricular educational software for children aged nine to eleven, using the medium of Formula One motor racing to develop children’s group-working skills and motivate their learning in key curriculum areas – including science, maths, and literacy. Children work together in their own teams, learning the importance of teamwork from the model of the pit crew teams who can change all four of an F1 car’s tyres in a matter of seconds.

Who decided to create an educational programme based on F1 that sits within the national curriculum – did the idea come from Williams F1 or CUP?
The initial idea came from the Williams F1 team: they wanted to use the excitement associated with Formula One to get children excited about learning – most particularly science and engineering. Education is one of the key elements of the Williams F1 team’s corporate social responsibility programme and they came to us to ensure that their contribution had real educational value for pupils, and answered teachers’ needs too. That’s why we were both so keen to match Race to Learn to the National Curriculum – not only so that we could make sure that what children were learning was genuinely useful, but to make it easier for teachers to fit the project into busy school timetables.

Is this Williams F1’s first joint venture within education? And what expertise did CUP as the Publisher bring to the project?
Race to Learn was certainly a new type of collaboration for both Williams and Cambridge, and a key element in the Williams F1 Team’s growing involvement in education. Cambridge brought the educational know-how to the project: the detailed curriculum knowledge, and experience of developing educational content – particularly materials for whiteboards – along with an awareness of what pupils and teachers required, and how that might best be achieved.

What was the most difficult aspect of this collaboration?
Getting the product concept just right took a long time, but it was definitely worth it. Because we weren’t starting off from our usual position of developing a course to match a particular curriculum area we had many more choices to make than we’d usually face: what age group to aim for, for instance, or how we might best make the excitement of Formula One serve learning objectives. Working with partners inevitably multiplies the number of people who need to approve each stage of the project, not only adding time to the schedule, but also widening the criteria against which the success of each stage of the project is judged. The better you understand your partners’ motivations, the better-placed you are to build their needs into your requirements, rather than reworking the project afterwards to match them.

What did Cambridge, and yourself, learn from working with a non-traditional educational partner? And based on this project would you consider working with similar high profile companies again?
We learned a lot: working with an external partner made us revisit our own processes and assumptions quite instructively. It was also eye-opening to see how an influential partner can open doors you’d never even knock on otherwise: working with Williams got us access to footage from races, interviews with drivers, and behind-the-scenes filming that we’d never have been able to get hold of working on our own.
I’d certainly love to work again with a partner from outside the industry, even one that wasn’t as glamorous or exciting as the Williams F1 team(!) in fact, my colleagues at Cambridge-Hitachi, the division of the Press that developed Race to Learn, are continuing to work with businesses and charities that want to contribute to education – you can find out more at http://www.cambridge-hitachi.com/csr/

What do you think it is that makes these types of collaboration work so well together?
One of the things that worked so well in our partnership with Williams was that we dovetailed so well. Though the two partners had complementary skills, and areas of expertise, we didn’t just divide the project between us, but worked closely together throughout. The Williams F1 team took an active – and well-informed – interest in the educational content, while the Cambridge contingent really became F1 fans, and brought their own excitement into the materials. If we’d just kept to our own spheres of influence, we might well have ended up with a product that was engaging and educational, but never both at the same time. So I’d advise publishers to make the effort to get to know their partners’ business area – if you can experience what they do even as a fan or consumer, you’ll be able to offer a useful additional perspective… and being able to share small talk helps to strengthen your relationship too.

What do collaborations such as these mean for learners and readers? And what do they mean for Publishers and those who want to create content?
I was lucky enough to see first-hand what such collaborations can mean to learners. After we published Race to Learn, the Williams F1 team gave free copies of the software to a number of local primary schools; we visited most of those schools, and – slightly unexpectedly – I ended up teaching classes using the software. It was fascinating to see how motivated the children were – teachers often told me that the children who contributed most to the lessons were those who sat in silence normally – and how well they were able to apply lessons learned from Formula One to their own experience. So such collaborations can offer publishers a way of motivating and engaging learners that they may struggle to generate on their own.

You’re often asked to speak at events, (and you’re now an expert on the Austro-Hungarian analogy), on the state of the publishing industry. So in your opinion do you think Publishing needs to be saved and is collaboration the answer (or one of them)?
Though it might be overly negative to regard the publishing industry as in need of saving, it certainly ought to be thinking seriously about its future. For me, any successful future for publishing has to be plural – that means multiple formats (paperback, hardback, ebook, app, or API, for instance), and many different ways for readers to get hold of content, whether buying it or renting it, subscribing, or paying by the page.  If we don’t have this plurality, we become less able to respond to changing circumstances, and overly dependent on external parties whose interests may be antithetical to our own (<cough> Amazon</cough>).
If we want this sort of plural future, then we have to create it ourselves, and collaboration will be a key factor in that – it helps publishers to share the burden of innovation: we don’t need to fight all our battles alone, and we’d be fools to try to do so. One of the main points behind my (now-retired) Austro-Hungarian analogy for publishing was that publishers needed to be establishing partnerships with those outside the industry – particularly start-ups like Bardowl, ValoBox and 24 Symbols, the Netherlands and Belgium of the content industry, but also other players like Williams – to help prevent the likes of Amazon and Apple dominating. That still remains the case, so far as I’m concerned.

About emc design

emc design is a leading print & digital design agency for publishing.
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