Meet the Judges: Robert Ashworth

We’re now into the final week of judging, and the final few introductions to our panel of judges before the all-important shortlist is revealed! In this article, Robert Ashworth from McGraw Hill shares his thoughts on the challenges of educational publishing and the experience of being a judge for the awards.

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Robert Ashworth, Senior Publisher, McGraw-Hill Education

Robert is responsible for publishing the accounting, psychology, sciences and business statistics portfolios for McGraw Hill Education. His passion is for developing teaching and learning resources that blend traditional text content with emerging learning technologies to allow institutions to teach their courses in different modalities and to engage the students of today. Robert has been instrumental in launching what McGraw-Hill believe to be the first truly adaptive learning and reading experiences in Australia with LearnSmart and SmartBook. 

Robert, have you judged the awards before? Yes, I was a judge in 2013, which was my first time. It was an interesting experience being able to view publications from all publishers against each other, and look at the innovative and creative ideas that each company is coming up with.

How do you feel about being asked to judge the EPAAs again? It is an honour being able to represent my company and also the educational publishing industry as a whole. It also comes with the responsibility of being impartial and evaluating each resource on its contribution to not only educational publishing but ultimately to the people who will be using the resources.

Why do you think the EPAAs are important for our industry? It is a chance for us to celebrate the successes and innovation of our industry, something that is increasingly important in the fast changing market that we operate in. The needs of the higher education market are changing quicker than ever before, with a bigger move towards eBooks and the ever increasing need for digital resources to complement traditional textbooks. So the awards give us a chance to all come together and look at what we have achieved in the past year, and an opportunity to think about where we need to head in the years to come.

Are there any challenges specific to educational publishing that you enjoy as part of your role? I think the biggest challenge in publishing for higher education is to be aware of the changing needs of our market. With institutions changing their own teaching models to include more blending learning or going for the ‘flipped classroom’ approach, and students learning in new and different ways than they have before, it means that we as educational publishers need to be constantly listening to our market. That means changing our own processes and letting our resources evolve to not only meet the needs of the market now, but also to predict the future trends of education and being ready for them. I find that exciting, that we are constantly needing to re-evaluate what we are producing and not standing still. I think we are working at a time where our industry is undergoing a radical transformation and that is exciting to be a part of.

What do you particularly value when reviewing an educational resource? I think it is a sum of all parts – you cannot have fantastic content but present it in a boring and unengaging fashion. In the same way that having a fantastic textbook but without the digital resources that your market is asking for, is not hitting the mark. So the way I review an educational resource is to think of the needs of the audience that the resource is aimed at, and ensuring that it meets those needs. One value that is especially important is innovation; I do not think that we should ever be happy to settle with what we have done before and think that there is no room for improvement – I think there are always ways to improve and innovate.

What’s the product or series you are most proud of having worked on in your career? Always a hard question to answer, I think you should always find something worthwhile in what you are doing, otherwise why bother. Saying that I think a couple stand out to me. The first being Passer Psychology, which was a large first edition publication with an impressive digital suite of resources to accompany it. Launching a first edition is always exciting as you get to shape something from scratch for your market, and the product was innovative in the adaptive digital resources that we developed with it. On the other hand there is a title like Knox Biology which poses the different challenge of allowing an established publication and brand to evolve with changing market needs and ensure that in the biology market, which is rapidly embracing the move away from print resources, it is still relevant, engaging and helping students and instructors to achieve what they need to. Most of all I am proud to be able to develop resources that allow us to take the content that our reputation has always been built upon and ensure that we are delivering that content  in the various ways that our market is demanding, whether that be as a printed book, an eBook, a suite of digital and adaptive resources, or a combination of all of them.