Sophie Kaliniecki, Cengage Australia’s Portfolio Lead, VET is the winner of the 2022 Mike Horsley Award for longstanding, dedicated service to the Educational Publishing industry. We chat to Sophie about her early career, what her key focuses and considerations are for creating impactful learning resources, her vision for the future of educational publishing and tips for those starting out.

Did you always set your sights on a career in publishing?

No, I originally wanted to work in Marine Science, and post Uni I did work in a lab until I got the travel bug and I headed overseas.

How did you first get your foot in the door of the publishing world?

Returning to Australia, I started working in a medical bookshop, one of a national chain, operated by a large company whose primary business was not publishing, but with the distribution rights for some prestigious US medical and Nursing imprints including Mosby, Yearbook and Lange. When the Distributor didn’t renew the agreement, the bookshops were taken over by a large healthcare company, and the Manager of the Melbourne bookshop offered me a job. I learned my way around the health imprints, and because we were near Melbourne Uni, I became familiar with the medical textbook lists. A year later a marketing position was advertised at a Publishing company taking on the distribution of a UK medical list, so I applied. I had developed an interest in Medical, Nursing and Allied Health publishing and some experience in sales and promotion.

You’ve worked for a number of prominent publishers – how valuable did you find for your career to work for a range of different providers?

The experience was invaluable – core processes are similar but there are some differences, which means you can adapt to suit a career path. Through these years of mergers and acquisitions I was in sales and marketing which was a great place to learn about processes and budgeting; at all of these companies I was able to participate in publishing meetings and learn from good publishers, and also to understand why some resources succeeded better than others – whether it was content supported by a well informed and well-trained sales force, volume of product (specialist publishers) or a product that was strong in teacher and student support; the networks were very supportive. Working on new editions gave me the experience of the publishing process and author management, and opportunities to look for gaps in the market for new resources. I was later able to broaden my experience by moving into Vocational product management; a new market, but core principles applied, and I was able to work on and add to, an established premium list.

Your nominators highlighted your commitment to learners, and drive in ensuring that content is meaningful for them. How do you go about making sure that learner’s needs are at the centre of what’s produced?

Communicating with teachers to understand course delivery, particularly when subjects are integrated and how to contribute to successful outcomes in student assessment. Vocational learning is competency based; each qualification addresses a number of competencies/subjects with a defined structure, and assessment requirements covering knowledge evidence and performance evidence. The structure can lead to unnecessary repetition, so teachers will often integrate the required knowledge evidence for each competency, like it works in the real world. In vocational a problem-based approach with authentic real-world scenarios provides a safe practice environment and enables students to apply theory to practice. Worked examples followed by plenty of exercises for students to self-assess also increase confidence. We work with authors, content developers and learning designers to aim for good outcomes for all students – resources with clear learning objectives, accessible content at the right AQF level.

You’ve consistently pushed for new and innovative ways to present content, to make it approachable for learners. Do you have any thoughts on how to hone and develop this type of creative thinking?

I try to think around what would work in the classroom or add value to a resource.
For example, I had always assumed that video was the most useful asset embedded in digital delivery of resources. However, for Community Services settings there were challenges, so going to trainers to qualify what was most useful for students, the feedback was clear – not video, but for certain qualifications, the students preferred to listen; the Industry Insight, a pedagogical feature in the core print, was repurposed into an interview style audio feature in the digital version.
When we decided to restructure one of our flagship titles, there was a significant quantity of material to be removed. This content addressed the knowledge and performance evidence required to demonstrate competency in assessment, so a workbook to accompany the core was developed with the aim of providing practice activities for students and in class or homework tests for teachers to set.

You work closely with authors – how do you build a great working relationship with an author, to ensure you get the best out of them?

I’m genuinely amazed by the expertise of subject matter experts, and most have a clear understanding of structure, and a commitment to schedules. Communication is important to clarify roles and expectations; scheduling extra meetings and regular check-ins can assist when there are competing commitments or when there are disruptions. Suggesting co-authors and research assistants can also assist writers who become very time poor. All authors are well supported during the writing process by a great team of content developers working with publishers to ensure the manuscript is ready for production.

What’s your vision for the educational publishing industry in the next 5-10 years? What would you like to see change?

I would like to see more equitable access for students Australia wide. There is a move to accreditation, or industry recognition of pre-employment and pre-long course education, so responding to resourcing micro credentials and boot camps. Continuing growth in online program/content management. Growing demand for bespoke training materials.

What advice would you give to someone starting out in the educational publishing sector?

Try to understand how teachers deliver their courses and how students learn – go out on campus with the learning consultants in your company. Keep up to date with what’s new in your market for both content and format. If inhouse training in negotiation, learning design, communication and other relatable areas is offered, do it. Network. Look at further education in Publishing or Business.

The Mike Horsley Award is chosen from a list of nominations made by the industry, read more about previous recipients.

If you missed the Educational Publishing Awards Australia 2022 event, the livestream broadcast is on YouTube.