Interview | Getting Personal with Todd Brekhus and myON

Todd Brekhus has a vision for keeping education relevant, and it’s fast becoming a reality. Todd leads the digital product vision and strategy at Capstone Digital. He was previously VP and chief marketing officer for PLATO Learning, president and COO of Learning Elements, and Education Program director for MCI WorldCom, where he helped build and implement the renowned Marco Polo program. He spent eight years in education as a teacher, department chair and technology director. Capstone Digital, a division of Capstone, was created in 2009 to develop personalized learning environments and interactive resources. They leverage technology to create a motivating environment for students to learn, gain confidence in their abilities, take ownership and responsibility in their reading growth, and achieve success across the curriculum. With a selection of over 14,000 books from Capstone Press, Compass Point Books, Picture Window Books, Stone Arch Books, and Heinemann-Raintree, students have plenty of reading to do, and myON reader helps them do so. It’s a personalized literacy environment that engages students at all reading levels by providing the largest integrated library of digital books. The over 1000 enhanced digital books include reading supports, and are recommended to students based on individual interests and reading level. Giving students the opportunity to choose what they want to read, in a digital environment in which they are comfortable, motivates them to become better and more confident readers.

Victor: Why did you create Capstone Digital and more recently, myON? And what does “myON” mean?

Todd: Capstone has been publishing award-winning books for the past 20 years and has become a trusted and beloved resource for librarians and teachers. With technology innovations, students, now more than ever, want to be able to personalize their learning similar to how they choose their music, movies, etc. Based on the research, we know literacy rates are declining; students are more motivated to learn using a multi-modal approach and if students like what they read they most likely will read more. Capstone Digital wanted to create a literacy program that encourages students to become more engaged in their reading ability and take responsibility for their reading growth.

myON was created to help convey the message that reading is personalized for the student (my) based on interests and reading levels, and the digital books can be accessed anytime, anywhere, online, and on level (on).

Victor: How would you describe myON in an elevator moment?

Todd: myON reader is a personalized literacy environment that connects student’s interests and their reading ability to a recommended book list from the largest library of enhanced digital books. With embedded assessments, students and teachers are able to track, monitor and measure reading growth and administrators can track progress by class/building and by district.

Victor: Who created it?

Todd: myON reader is from Capstone Digital, and was driven by research, customer input, and educator reviews. It was created by a team of librarians, educators, researchers and technical experts. Capstone Digital partnered with MetaMetrics to help create the assessment engine that measures reading growth and levels books.

Victor: What does it do? What are the benefits?

Todd: myON reader offers over 1,000 online digital books with reading supports – audio, dictionary and highlighting. Capstone Digital leverages the over 14,000 books currently in print from our award winning publishers and now takes them into a digital platform. Students can choose what they are interested in reading, read, rate and review the book through a safe social network and then take an end of book quiz to test their comprehension. After five completed books, students are prompted to take a benchmark assessment to determine if their Lexile level increases/decreases which then prompts a new recommended book list. Through unique logins and passwords, students read books and monitor their own growth; teachers create student groups, recommend book lists and measure student progress, librarians/media specialists manage their collection and collaborate with teachers to enhance curriculum, and administrators monitor and compare reading scores by class, grade and by building.

Victor: How is it unique from other similar products/services? What companies do you see as in the same market?

Todd: We have the largest library of enhanced digital books in the market today. With a growing collection of over 1,000 books, this is a clear advantage of myON reader. Initially students login to myON reader and complete an interest inventory and Lexile assessment which is followed by system generated recommended book list. There are several other companies that have digital books, either on a device or a download. myON reader provides access to students anywhere there is Internet access, there is no checkin/check-out procedures and offers concurrent access to any book with in myON reader.

Victor: When was it developed?

Todd: myON reader was launched on October 26, 2010 and is currently in the process of our public launch at FETC and TCEA.

Victor: What is something interesting or relevant about its development history?

Todd: The partnership with MetaMetrics and the development team from Portage Interactive. MetaMetrics is clearly a visionary organization that is helping transform the reading environment using The Lexile Framework® for Reading which measures student reading levels. Capstone acquired Portage Interactive, a software development firm that has worked on several major educational programs, and many of the developers worked on the Oregon and Amazon Trail projects.

Victor: Where did it originate? Where can you get it now?

Todd: myON reader can be purchased through our digital sales team that are located throughout the US.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Todd: myON reader is available as an annual license. Pricing can vary based on number of buildings and years, so the best option is to call for a quote.

Victor: What are some examples of it in action?

Todd: We have a number of school districts that are currently using the program: Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia; Chicago Public Schools in Illinois; Orange County Public Schools in Florida—just to name a few.

Victor: Who is it particularly tailored for? Who is it not for?

Todd: The benefit of this program is that is scalable. It is primarily focused on the PreK-8 market but can be extended into the high school level to assist struggling and remedial readers. Both suburban large scale school districts and small rural school districts are implementing myON reader.

Victor: What are your thoughts on education these days?

Todd: Educating students has changed immensely in the last 10 years. School districts are facing all kinds of challenges ranging from budget restrictions to increased diversity in the classroom and the need for a more personalized approach to help students at all levels. The trends toward mass customization, personalized learning, and individual learning plans all drive the need for innovative tools to help impact student learning.

Victor: What sort of formative experiences in your own education helped to inform your approach to creating Capstone Digital / myON?

Todd: As a past school technology director, my approach was always how to share digital resources with the whole school rather than isolate the resources in the library or classroom. When creating the vision for myON reader, I wanted to make sure that all parts of the school could benefit from using the software, and use it in different ways to drive what really matters—student achievement.

Victor: How does Capstone Digital / myON address some of your concerns about education?

Todd: myON reader provides educators an option that is not currently being addressed. It helps librarians collaborate with teachers and more directly support curriculum and classroom work with digital book resources

It provides teachers a time saving method of assessing students at the beginning of the year and provides an opportunity to track their reading through standard reporting. Reports include time spent reading, quantity of books read and comprehension.

Administrators create a new opportunity to build a home-to-school connection through access of myON reader at school and at home.

Victor: What is your outlook on the future of education?

Todd: Today’s education system needs to be supported by innovative educational technology tools to support 21st Century learning models. Students learn in different ways, and education needs to be flexible to teach in different ways (while still ensuring core curriculum needs are being met). Personalized learning is just the beginning of how we can help schools and education be relevant in the future.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Capstone Digital / myON?

Todd: Having student access to more books has been shown by research to be a critical factor in student achievement. When you add personalization to the books by ensuring they are in the right reading levels, and interesting to the students, you can impact achievement even more. Capstone Digital is in a unique position—we have the software experience to successfully implement an easy-to-use and effective solution, but we also have a wide range of content sure to meet the needs of even the most reluctant reader.

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Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. He has written white papers, articles and features for schools, nonprofits and companies in the education marketplace. Write to: victor@VictorRivero.com

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2 Responses to Interview | Getting Personal with Todd Brekhus and myON

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