Friday, 19 August 2016

Spotlight on SAGE Publishing's An Adventure in Statistics by Andy Field - shortlisted for the 2016 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing

This is the penultimate post in a series of interviews with the 2016 ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing finalists.

Mark Kavanagh from SAGE Publishing talks about An Adventure in Statistics.

What is the project you submitted for the Awards?

Traditional methods of teaching and learning are in flux, partly because attention in the digital age is a scarce resource and engaging students is an increasing challenge. When Andy Field presented his ideas for a new approach to writing a textbook, we saw the opportunity to promote innovation within our textbook programme, specifically using Research Methods as our sandpit to play with pedagogy and better understand student engagement and learning styles.

A reinvention of the classic textbook model, An Adventure in Statistics demonstrates SAGE’s commitment to putting the authorial voice, ideas and talents at the heart of what we do, and to responding to the changing needs of students today.

Tell us more about how it works and the team behind it.

It is designed to work in the same way any textbook would. There are chapters on all the key areas covered on typical introductory statistics courses, there are pedagogical features throughout, and there is an online website offering complementary teaching and learning resources.

Where it departs from the traditional textbook model is in conveying statistical concepts through the interactions of characters in a novel length story – a science fiction love story in which Zach searches for his beloved Alice in a futuristic world, where every character he meets in his quest wants to teach him stats!

Great focus was placed both on the visual and story elements of the text to ensure that it worked as ‘academic fiction’. Andy always had the student reader firmly in mind from the beginning, but when he delivered the script, the SAGE product development team adopted a “bottom up”, user focused review process to better learn how this unique approach worked in practice, to build up student testimonials, and to help create more innovative sales and marketing strategies.

Andy engaged an Illustrator – James Iles, of Doctor Who fame – who helped initiate bringing the story to life. In house, Ian Antcliff worked on creating a design consistent with the artwork, adding value to the visual experience.


The array of illustrations bring another dimension to the figures, tables and pedagogy scattered throughout the book, fully immersing students into Zach’s world and making a one of a kind reading and learning experience.

In addition Andy worked with fiction editor, Gillian Stern, who provided feedback on the story elements of the text, helping to release Andy’s hitherto latent literary talents.

Why do you think it demonstrates publishing innovation?

An Adventure in Statistics rethinks the way that knowledge can be acquired, embedding statistical concepts into a highly illustrated, fictional narrative to motivate student learning. Using the medium of a science fiction love-story – not explored within teaching before – Andy have taken a creative approach to a long established model to create a more effective learning experience.

We’ve invested significantly in adapting a traditional model and format of dissemination to appeal both to changing learning styles and the ways in which students want to engage with educational content. It puts the reader at the centre, challenging their preconceptions about style and learning habits, appealing to their creative nature, demystifying content and teaching through a novel format.

In addition the story element of the product gives us much more scope to play with new ways of engaging students via social media, fostering and sustaining “fandom” and product discoverability.

An Adventure in Statistics is the expression of Andy’s vision for better engaging students and symbolises our willingness to invest significantly in the ideas of those at the forefront of HE teaching.

What are your plans for the future?

An Adventure in Statistics represents our most far reaching foray into understanding better student engagement, but we’re undertaking a range of innovation in pedagogy initiatives of varying scale throughout our textbook publishing programme. Adopting the “digital” mind-set of learning by doing and iterating, we’re conducting a series meaningful experiments across print and digital to learn more about how to be as relevant as possible to students at a time when they are increasingly influential in what teaching material they use.

Tell us a bit about your company.

SAGE Publishing is a leading independent academic and professional publisher founded in 1965 by Sara Miller McCune. SAGE is widely credited with helping to found early fields in Research Methods, and over its 50 year history has developed to further support the field in academic content, teaching resources, and innovative new products (e.g. SAGE Video Research Methods). We are committed to continuing our tradition of innovation within the Research Methods sphere, and the new textbook by award winning author Andy Field is a key example of how SAGE’s textbooks are breaking the mould of pedagogy, research methods and teaching.

This post was updated 5 September 2016.

Mark Kavanagh is Executive Publisher at SAGE Publishing. You can watch Mark present during the ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing lightning sessions at the Conference in September, where the winners will be announced. Further information and booking available online.

The ALPSP Awards for Innovation in Publishing 2016 are sponsored by MPS Ltd.

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