Success Stories

The Minnesota Historical Society Uses Tech to Teach History


To create a digital textbook with more than one edition and varying levels of permissions and authentication, the Minnesota Historical Society turned to MEI Portico, a digital solution for creating a branded experience for apps built with Adobe Digital Publishing Suite. The decision to use such a powerful and customizable tool is proving to be a success as teachers and students successfully access, use, and adopt the learning aid into their curriculum.

Preserving History

The Minnesota Historical Society preserves Minnesota’s past by sharing its stories and connecting people with history in meaningful ways. Since 1849, they’ve grown to become one of the largest and most prestigious historical societies in the country and have an important role in Minnesota’s historic preservation, education and tourism.

As part of their dedication to preserving the history of the state, the Minnesota Historical Society provides textbooks and social studies resources for Minnesota students. Since the historical content changes as times goes on, these learning aids require updated versions within reasonable increments of time.

With more schools adopting new learning platforms and hardware technologies such as tablets, teachers and students alike wanted a digital product – and the Minnesota Historical Society decided to provide this option to further its mission.

Shana Crosson, Education Technologist at the Minnesota Historical Society, put it this way: “With schools going digital, we knew we needed a solution to remain relevant and continue engaging students with history.”

Going Digital

The digital version of a textbook is the next wave in learning aids. Digital textbooks allow for more frequent updates, interactive videos and links, and the ability to help students branch out and learn as they watch, read, click, and tap. The app can become a one-stop shop and the content, once downloaded, can be available offline.

To satisfy the needs of teachers and students while providing a more frequently updated social studies learning aid, the Minnesota Historical Society set out on a quest to go digital. Their first challenge was to find an affordable digital publishing solution that could meet their unique needs while producing a great looking and fully functional end product.

When reviewing their options, they had to consider a few factors unique to their situation. These included:

  • Permissions and authentication. Since the textbook would be released in at least two editions – teacher and student versions – there needed to be a process to ensure that students were limited to a student version, and that teachers had access to a version that included additional teaching supplements and information. Also, since the textbook was not free-of-charge, there needed to be a payment option.
  • Simple login. Not every person downloading and accessing the textbook would be tech-savvy; the login had to be simple.
  • Integration with existing technology. The Minnesota Historical Society used Adobe InDesign to create the textbook and wanted to be sure the solution would integrate, rather than require a migration of their content.
The Digital Solution

After researching options and evaluating solutions based on performance, integration, and cost, the Minnesota Historical Society decided to use the Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) for its publishing platform. They also chose MEI Portico, the leading solution for creating a branded experience for apps built with DPS.

Portico was the best fit and, as Crosson said, “It was really the only solution that was going to work.”

Crosson had seen Portico used for many different applications, which instilled confidence that it could be adapted easily to meet their needs. She had also seen Portico used by other associations and non-profits, so she felt sure it would fit within their budget.

Using Portico

With a 500-page book and a tight deadline of launching before the 2014- 2015 school year, the Minnesota Historical Society worked closely with MEI to ensure the product was going to be released on time and work as expected.

On July 24, 2014, the Minnesota Historical Society released their Northern Lights Interactive app powered by DPS and Portico. Within about six weeks of the release, they had reached the milestone of 1,500 folio downloads and 6,000 licenses sold, which includes iPad and Web versions. One teacher even said, “This was exactly what I was looking for!”

The Benefits

By bringing digital into the mix, the previously hardback social studies book for Minnesota students transformed into an enhanced, interactive historical storybook. The solution allowed them to take their content to the next level and deliver the experience in a digital format across platforms.

“The digital textbook allowed us to offer more primary sources such as images, maps, objects, etc., and take advantage of a digital platform that allowed for deeper learning with interactive elements, audio and video,” said Crosson.

Crosson is excited about the ability to more efficiently update newer versions and ensure that schools have access to the latest and greatest materials. She is even more excited that teachers and the curriculum director are impressed with the app and feel that this will help them deliver the content in a more intriguing teaching style.

Into the Future

The Minnesota Historical Society has been very satisfied with the final product. Doing it digitally has opened up new opportunities and they’re even considering using this solution for other content and to satisfy the needs of their other constituents beyond just teachers and students. This initial launch may serve as proof of concept for upcoming projects that will help keep the Minnesota Historical Society true to their mission of connecting people with history – even through 21st century technologies.