Chris Drage talks to Nelson Thornes about the challenge for publishers in the digital age – and discovers 'Kerboodle'
screenshotkerboodleNelson Thornes moved in towards a blended learning approach – tradition and digital publishing – much earlier than many of its rivals. Working with the AQA exam board, Nelson Thornes decided that it would not just publish the supporting books for GCSE and A-level but a range of interactive online resources as well.

These include reinforcement materials and test-and-assess activities for all of the GCSE and A Level subjects. Thornes Thornes stuck its collective neck out where other publishers fear to tread with an online service called Kerboodle which already has more than 500,000 active users.

Kerboodle offers everything that is possible to deliver through an online service to support its courses. Obviously some subjects lend themselves better to this approach than others, particularly those which require knowledge and experience that can't be adequately presented two dimensionally in a textbook. Science is a prime example and one where Kerboodle can be seen at its best, providing simulations like splitting the atom and looking inside a cell.

None of this sounds very new. Indeed, in common with most publishing companies, for the past two years Nelson Thornes approached developing a supporting website as if it were a ‘book’ and not an interactive and dynamic resource. Where is the value in that? A customer may as well purchase the book.

KerboodleKerboodle: now available as appsHowever, the Nelson Thornes approach is to provide a range of interactive supporting resources – even apps for iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches – as well as publishing all of the books online as well. The advantage? An 'etextbook' can be 'hot spotted' and have video and audio annotations added. Links can be added to other supporting websites and online resources, and generally do a lot more for the subject than if ithe materials were paper-based. Teachers can annotate the text as well as students at school or from home, and this perhaps is where more traditional publishers are a little nervous. Would you really want your textbook ‘cannibalised’?

The fact of the matter is that while many teachers are happy with the traditional textbook, when students are asked to go home and ‘find out about…’ they will research online. With Kerboodle, Nelson Thornes has taken the approach of asking how it can help teachers and students make the best use of very good content, be it on the printed page, online or on a mobile device.

To do this the company has undergone a culture change. It has jumped from the mind-set which only delivers content on paper and extrapolates from this to other 'delivery systems' to one where the body of content takes a centre stage, leaving the platform/delivery system and media to be used until further down the line. Content therefore ceases to be discrete and static in nature and is subject to an integrated approach to delivery. Some aspects of the content will be better suited to paper-based texts while others may suit an interactive online approach or the use of an app on a mobile device. The flexibility in this approach allows teachers to build their own lessons, and allows students to go away and to engage in a whole gamut of activities around every learning object related to the future exam.

There is a Kerboodle for every subject

Jennie MartinJennie MartinThere is a Kerboodle for every subject. Indeed Jennie Martin, online services director at Nelson Thornes, claims some schools have up to 40 Kerboodles and she is quick to point out that the emphasis is on each one being totally learner-centric. Obviously that means extra work editing and altering the content, but isn’t that what publishing companies do anyway? It means that extra added value can be added to help schools that are no longer supported with aspects like teacher tools and administrative help and areas where you can help students with their exams, and this moves the whole Kerboodle resource beyond the classroom and into the home with help for parents who want to support their child, and advice and help with pastoral aspects like what to do in the case of cyber bullying.

Online text book(s) can be accessed and used in any way the student needs. Working in tandem with the supporting App, a student may not complete the task at hand but can later get back online and finish. The idea is to pull together all the strands of the subject so it doesn't matter where the student is, Kerboodle ensures that it interlinks.

The resources in Kerboodle broadly fit into four categories; presentation, quick practice, extended practice (task-based activities) and assessment and exam practice.

Presentations are used to demonstrate scientific concepts and develop knowledge and understanding:

  • Animations and simulations demonstrate complex scientific concepts in an engaging context;
  • Video case studies show the relevance of science in the work place and in students’ lives.

‘Quick Practice’ comprises interactive activities and worksheets. The interactive activities allow the student three attempts to complete the activity successfully, with feedback covering common misconceptions. This allows a student to learn while completing the activity as the results are not stored.

‘Extended Practice’ activities are used to develop skills and further understanding. These task-based activities include:

  • Maths skills interactive activities that include a combination of worked solutions, practice questions and constructive feedback to meet the new mathematical requirements of the examination specification.
  • Data handling skills to develop students’ practical skills in presenting and analysing data, making predictions and drawing conclusions.
  • ‘WebQuests’ give research support and guidance, making them great group activities for the classroom or for home.
  • ‘Viewpoints’ to develop students’ skills in forming scientific opinions and making judgements. Students look at ethical issues from the specification, view others opinions and then form their own.

Assessment and exam practice resources assess progress and prepare the student for exams:

  • ‘Test Yourself’ interactive tests, with reporting and diagnostic feedback, allow the teacher to see where t here are gaps in a student’s knowledge. These tests need to be assigned to the student, or group of students, and are automatically marked by Kerboodle.
  • ‘On Your Marks’ activities show sample answers to questions from the student book, alongside examiner’s commentary to help perfect exam technique.  

Screen kerboodle bookKerboodle: no one gets in trouble for marking up a digital bookExamination style questions and a complete ISA support package are also included. The results of the task-based activities and Test Yourself interactive tests can then be exported from the report section of Kerboodle as a spread sheet. Below is a more detailed breakdown of how the different resource types can be used.

What do students think of Kerboodle? Here are some recent edited tweets:
“Kerboodle is my savour...internet revision makes life so much easier.”
“Kerboodle was pretty good for a bit of easier listening practise. l've also read through and rewritten all my old essays”
“Sitting in Gretna Gateway car park listening to physics Kerboodle revision mp3s”
“The stuff on Kerboodle is good”
“Try Kerboodle E****, it's so much better than learning the vocab out of the book”
“Mrs R****** lied to me! Just looked on Kerboodle and it's the complete opposite of what she said! You were right”.
“I just love Kerboodle”

And the teachers? Here are a few typical quotes.

Sally Jones, Alderley Edge School for Girls, Cheshire: “We use Kerboodle for AS and A2 French and Spanish at Alderley Edge School for Girls as the girls love the listening exercises and the video links. At the end of each unit studied, I set the girls the ‘test yourself’ exercise and log the results. In the run up to the examinations, they have particularly appreciated the fact that they can use it at home and have benefited from the examiners commentary and sample question practice. It has been an invaluable resource this year.”

Anna Pethybridge, King James I community Arts College, Bishop Auckland: “Kerboodle has given me unprecedented power to differentiate my lessons to suit the needs and abilities of all learners. Since languages became optional it has become accepted that you can have a class of 25 pupils whose target GCSE grades can range from A* - G. That makes traditional teaching extremely difficult”.

Miss C Freeman, Stephen Perse Sixth Form College, Cambridge: “We have been using Kerboodle online with our sixth formers studying A level and IB German for a year so far and have found it to be an invaluable resource. We have found it to be very user friendly, for teachers and students alike, which means we can get on with the lessons.”

Online publishing means a product can constantly evolve

Perhaps the main advantage of publishing a GCSE/A Level-course in such a dynamic manner is that it can constantly evolve, and Kerboodle is evolving. Nelson Thornes has made the science course and user screens simpler, so they are easier to use and both teachers and students spend more time on what really matters. The interface has improved with drop-down lists (instead of lots of buttons) to make screens simpler and clearer. Kerboodle Secondary makes it easier to manage student and teacher accounts. TeacherAdmin now makes it easier to get to the administration sections, so teachers can focus on everyday teaching – not once-a-year tasks – and any teacher can change their students' passwords straight away, even during lessons. Paper-based courseware just can’t compete.

While the challenge for publishers continues, with technology still racing ahead unchecked, the overall success of e-publishing is probably best summed up by teacher David Paterson when he says: “Kerboodle was introduced to our students last term and it has had an immediate impact on their enjoyment and engagement with their studies. The interactive activities hook them in, and the availability of the text books online is a real boon for teachers and students. They love the ability to annotate their own copy of the book, safe in the knowledge that it will remain there until they return for revision later in the course.

"Setting and marking homework has become a breeze through Kerboodle, making use of the already excellent everyday abilities with computing and the internet. Kerboodle has been a fantastic addition to our department and school.”

More information


Chris DrageChris Drage, a former teacher, is a consultant and journalist covering learning with ICT. You can contact him by email - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Add comment

Security code