More and more elementary, middle and high schools, as well as universities, are turning to digital textbooks — not just because an iPad or laptop lightens a backpack, but because of the benefits of multimedia content.
“Digital textbooks are all about variety,” said Sue Spreckman, an instructional coach for District 34 schools in Glenview, who formerly spent 13 years as an elementary school teacher. “In addition to reading text, in a digital textbook, students can watch and analyze video clips and speeches, and view maps and photos, which helps them analyze all the media together and form opinions.”
Roger Brown and Gaylon Emerzian, co-owners of Trillium Productions, an Evanston media production company, said there have been many research studies indicating digital textbooks improve student engagement and participation in the classroom, as well as test scores.
It’s a motivating factor that has helped Brown and Emerzian, who in addition to being business partners are husband and wife, take Trillium to the leading edge of the digital publishing field.
“One of our strengths was always educational media,” said Brown, who started Trillium Productions 29 years ago in the Evanston home where he lived at the time. “We took all the things we learned about school curricula and how schools buy media and we applied it in a new media form that makes education active and brings text to life with pictures and audio and interactive tools that make learning fun.”
A Northwestern University graduate and former account executive for Gilbert Altschul Productions, Brown met wife Emerzian shortly after starting Trillium.
Emerzian, who holds a degree in film from Columbia College, is a veteran producer, who while working as an editor for WTTW, Chicago, won an Emmy award in 1981 for editing the documentary, “Rape: Who’s There for the Victim?”
In 1996 she created Spatulatta.com, an interactive kids’ cooking website that won multiple awards, including a James Beard Award. The website also led to a cookbook published by Scholastic in 2007.
“For 30 years, Roger and I have both been taking hard to understand subjects and breaking them down to make them easier for audiences to understand,” Emerzian said. “The formats are all different, but they all involve our story telling skills.”
“We’ve gone from film to video to digital media across multiple platforms that include websites, touch screen presentations, interactives and digital textbooks,” said Brown.
Trillium produces television documentaries, museum media for clients such as Chicago History Museum, Illinois Holocaust Museum and Kohl Children’s Museum, and educational media for organizations that include University of Chicago Hospitals, National Geographic and Discovery Education.
“They assisted us in creating engaging narratives around core high school science topics, as well as math topics for middle school and high school,” said Courtney McGee, director of digital content for Discovery Education. “From expert interviews and location shooting to detailed yet accessible charts and graphics, Trillium makes things happen on time and on budget.”
When asked why he named the company Trillium, Brown explained the Trillium is the state flower of Wisconsin and when he initially launched the company, he was producing a lot of nature and science films.
Also, both Brown and Emerzian enjoy flowers and nature, and often work in the garden of their Evanston home.
“No two days are ever the same,” Brown said. “Certain days we work on our patio and others we are exploring and doing research. I love taking a dry concept and putting it together in a way that is so interesting that people say, ‘Wow, I never knew that.’”