Norton Illumine Ebook Q&A 

We sat down with two leaders in digital publishing at Norton, Betsy Twitchell and Mateus Teixeira, to discuss the research and development of the new Norton Illumine Ebook. 

We want to increase transparency around publishing jobs and the work of making educational materials. Can you speak about your role at Norton and a little bit about how you got there?  

Betsy Twitchell
Image Credit: Betsy Twitchell

BAT: I got my first job at Norton in college sales right after I graduated from the University of Washington. Even though I had been an English major, I fell in love with our science textbooks almost immediately, especially our geology, biology, and astronomy lists. After five years in sales and marketing, I served as Norton’s biology editor for twelve years, publishing First Editions such as Biology Now and leading the acquisition of the Garland titles, including Essential Cell Biology, Molecular Biology of the Cell, and others. But increasingly I found myself drawn to the digital side of Norton’s publishing program, so a few years ago I became a media editor and then Associate Director, Digital Media. It’s been my absolute privilege over the last two years to assist in the launch of our exciting new digital learning tool, the Norton Illumine Ebook.  

Mateus Teixeira
Image Credit: Wil Zanni

MMT: I’m Norton’s Director of Digital Publishing. My team is responsible for implementing the production systems and processes that allow us to scale in tandem with the growth of our digital educational products. My focus is to spearhead strategy and product development of the Norton Ebook Reader, Norton Illumine Ebook, and Norton Testmaker. I landed in publishing by a circuitous yet, in retrospect, surprisingly predictable path! I graduated from the University of Vermont in 2012 with majors in English, astrophysics, and math, and had since childhood been a digital geek who also had a deep appreciation for the arts and humanities. After I graduated college, I moved to Brooklyn in search of opportunities in the arts and was recommended by a friend to replace her as Norton’s digital production assistant. To make a long story short, I got the job, which was the ideal kickoff to tease out my interests and natural skills. As Norton’s digital business grew, my responsibilities also grew. I eventually started collaborating with our accessibility lead on improving the accessibility of our ebooks, and that started me on product and R&D. The same track got me involved in standards and the World Wide Web Consortium, where I serve as the Advisory Committee representative for Norton. I love this job—it truly feels like exploring an uncharted world beyond the horizon. 

And what is the Norton Illumine Ebook?  

MMT: The Norton Illumine Ebook is our solution to one of the most common challenges we hear from educators: it’s difficult to get students to engage with the course reading. But this answer is also a simplification. Norton Illumine Ebooks are an evolution of the static idea of a print-under-glass digital textbook. They feature interesting interactive activities and assessment that instructors can assign to students for a grade. To adapt Norton’s long-standing motto: they are “ebooks that live.” 

Although Norton Illumine Ebooks help instructors hold their students accountable through the assignment and grading features, the ultimate purpose of these ebooks is to support students. Often, a student’s first encounter with a new idea or concept comes from their assigned readings. The features we built into the Norton Illumine Ebook are intended to help all students navigate these first steps in their course. The interactive activities and Dynamic Data Figures, central features in several Norton Illumine Ebooks, are illuminating, quite fun, and engaging. In all Norton lllumine Ebooks, we embed Check Your Understanding questions that students can answer as many times as they need to reinforce their understanding of the content. The completion-tracking functionality in these ebooks also gives students a tool to hold themselves accountable for their own learning, regardless of how their teacher assigns the textbook. This practice makes for a motivational, supportive experience that, as an instructor said during our research, “is not demoralizing.” 

Like all Norton digital products, we designed these ebooks to solve our educators’ and students’ challenges—in direct response to their feedback. 

What first interested you about interactive, assignable reading? 

BAT: The transformation of textbooks from physical objects to digital learning tools is very exciting and offers real teaching and learning advantages for instructors and students. As the biology editor signing authors and developing content for undergraduate courses, I started to think the tools at my and my authors’ disposal were limited; in a print textbook we had only text and static illustrations to work with. But when we started thinking about our content as primarily digital, we knew we could create dynamic, interactive learning opportunities as well as facilitate interactions between students and their instructors. Access to tools in the Norton Illumine Ebook that make our content interactive and assignable has invigorated my editorial imagination and I know many of my colleagues feel the same way. I am excited to see the innovative content that comes out of Norton editor-author collaborations in the Norton Illumine Ebook in the coming years. 

MMT: The relationship between the authors’ vision, excellent editorial discernment, and astute product strategy that Betsy alludes to is a unique aspect in Norton’s approach to digital publishing. Of course, we rely on data to make strategic decisions, but I love that the learning tools we build are also inspiring novel and innovative kinds of content and learning experiences. This year is just the beginning for Norton Illumine Ebooks. 

What research informed the development of the Norton Illumine Ebook?  

MMT: All Norton products—digital or physical—are developed in response to what we learn from our customers: educators, learners, and readers. In the digital products group, we always “center the user” when deciding how to (or whether to) develop a new product or feature. In the earliest stages of this process, we rely on an extensive and deliberate discovery phase, which includes gathering stories from our sales and marketing teams who understand our users best, from artful editors who know how to craft excellent content, and from a User Experience (UX) team that routinely conducts usability tests and contextual inquiries to understand if what we built is well-designed and truly solving our customers’ problems. However, research is not only an early step of the product’s development; it is a cyclical, perpetual effort that informs our steps before and after each development decision. 

BAT: The research that led to the Norton Illumine Ebook you see today was conducted over a three-year period and benefited greatly from the collaboration between our editorial, digital product, UX, sales, and marketing groups. Through surveys and interviews, we collected extensive feedback from Norton editors and authors, instructors, and even students about their attitudes on ebooks and the use of digital tools for learning. We also consulted with our authors, such as Sarah Grison, professor of psychology at Parkland College, who are leaders in the field of learning science, about research-backed strategies improving student comprehension and retention in the digital environment. All this research pointed us to an easy-to-use, easy-to-assign platform supporting digital content such as interactives, Check Your Understanding questions, and Dynamic Data Figures that became the Norton Illumine Ebook.  

What are some best practices for using interactive, assignable reading in a class?  

BAT: The Norton Illumine Ebook is a brand-new learning tool! We are eager to see how instructors and students harness it to improve learning in their courses and we will be conducting extensive research into exactly that question.  

We know from the way instructors use our other digital learning tools, such as InQuizitive and Smartwork, that it helps to set regular, weekly assignments for students to complete and to assign a meaningful number of points to the completion of those assignments. We know the reading is most often students’ first introduction to key concepts before they even attend in-person or online lecture, or complete activities like InQuizitive or Smartwork. Because of this, the content and assessments in the Norton Illumine Ebook are designed to be engaging, exploratory, and formative.  

What plans do you have for the future of the Norton Illumine Ebook?  

MMT: Just like we spent three years honing the vision and direction for the first Norton Illumine Ebooks, we are now nine months into research on new features. One puzzle that has clearly emerged in this round of research is instructors’ desire to have even more visibility into their students’ engagement with the course material. The next year of Norton Illumine Ebook development will focus on giving instructors actionable insights into their students’ engagement with the text and ebook tools, including annotations. I am excited about this direction, because once we generate more data for instructors, we can also imagine new kinds of student-oriented activities designed around, and informed by, this data. We are also working on tools that will make Norton Illumine Ebooks easier and more flexible to assign via Learning Management Systems. 

Where can one get access to a Norton Illumine Ebook in their discipline? 

BAT: You can peruse a list of titles that have Norton Illumine Ebooks and learn more here: To request access, get in touch with us by clicking “Find My Rep” here:

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