Archive for May, 2011

Podcasts: Replacing Attendance, or Aiding Study?

In the blossoming age of technology, Apple’s iTunes store arguably revolutionized music, but its podcast database is less known. Having been around for some time, Podcasts may not be the most recent hot topic in technology, but iTunes U, the portion of iTunes made specifically for college students, is of note. On iTunes U, and some other sites, college professors are able to upload podcasts of their lectures, making it possible for students to miss class, but still watch the lecture from a remote location. But can podcasts be used constructively for both professors and students, or will they make the need to actually attend class obsolete? Some factors to think about:

Podcasts can be incredibly helpful in the most obvious way: missing class. Every college student’s worst nightmare is getting sick (or sleeping in) and missing a couple of classes. Although you can copy notes or read the book, no one else takes notes in your style, therefore someone elses’ notes don’t really work as well as your own, ever. The ability to watch the lecture via podcast can be extremely helpful for students who had to miss class for some reason, especially for important medical or family emergencies.


Missing class or not, podcasts might be better learning tools. A study discussed on showed that students who used podcasts actually did better than those who attended class, when both groups were tested. This is probably because they were able to replay the more confusing parts of the lecture, or simply watch the whole thing multiple times.

From Facebook to Wikipedia: Five Tech Developments that have Changed Students, for Better or Worse


Most of the time, technological development is a good thing. But there are five developments worth noting, that are both good, and very obviously, bad for student learning. And sometimes, The Textbook Guru likes to have fun with his posts. The five biggest game-changers for the modern student are:

1. Affordable Laptops

No student wants to go back to the relative stone age of desktop computers and (gasp) typewriters. The ability to not only type, save and print papers, but bring a laptop to class, has thrown open the doors to new ways of note-taking and accessing information. The contribution to curing note-induced hand-cramping is also of note. But any teacher staring up at a sea of Apple logos instead of smiling faces can tell you: it’s harder than ever to get students to pay attention. Some draconian instructors have even banned laptops in the classroom.

2. Facebook

Facebook is probably the single worst thing to happen to productivity since the advent of the internet (YouTube and StumbleUpon might be a close seconds). Sitting at the back of a crowded lecture hall, you can’t count on two hands the number of blue-and-white computer screens you’ll see. Facebook makes stalking friends photos, statuses, and relationships far more appealing than studying, and as the number two most visited site in the US (behind Google) that’s a whole lot of wasted hours. The procrastination is so intense that even students recognize its dangers: finals seasons brings a flurry of “deactivating” so students won’t be tempted to log on and check out last night’s party outfits instead of starting a paper.

There is an upside to the nefarious Facebook, though. With the new “groups” feature, Facebook has introduced a powerful collaboration tool. The ability to chat within a group, post documents, send messages and more brings the power of Google Groups right to where students spend most of their time. An e-mail can be ignored. A notification? Never.

3. Wikipedia

Any student in the past decade has heard this before: “Wikipedia doesn’t count as a source.” Wikipedia is editable, meaning its credibility is obviously questionable. However, Wikipedia is also really, really useful. There’s a Wikipedia page on just about everything, and the first instinct of any student given a question is to google and then “wiki” it. It may be second nature, but almost every teacher or professor won’t accept Wikipedia as a source for an assignment.

Students have found a way around this, though, in one shortcut that is actually a good one. Wikipedia editors are supposed to post their sources in the footnotes of the page. Students trying to find legitimate sources to cite can click through to those original sources, and read and cite from there. Not all students will, but for those who do, Wikipedia can serve as a very useful launching point for research.

4. Answer Sites

Answer sites, like Yahoo! and are the ultimate temptation for students, often younger ones who don’t know any better. I type my question, and someone answers me. However, that “someone” can be anyone.

You’d think students would know better, but a quick look (and another, and another) proves otherwise.

The desire for instant help has spawned a number of online tutor and homework help sites that are legitimate, however. I reviewed a few posts back, and our guest poster from Monday is another. Students just need to be wary, and remember that not every one online is an expert. In fact, very few are.

5. E-books

E-books are great resources that we’ve been talking about a lot here at The Textbook Guru. For students who need something like classical literature, who’s copyright has expired, there are great odds that a digital version will be online somewhere for free, either on Amazon or Google Books.

So what’s the drawback? Expecting books online, especially for research, can cause students to skimp on that research, and never once step foot in a library. Students might rely on the fragmented “previews” of books on Google, or only on sources they find online.

With all of the options students have in terms of online information, social networking, and choice of computer, things can get a little crazy. It’s important to be discerning while deciding what information to use, as well as which products to buy. All of the new applications and technological developments have changed the ways that students approach and learn about pretty much everything, and it’s important for students to be aware of just how technology dictates their learning.

Have any thoughts? Waste a lot of time on Facebook? Let me know in the comments!

Guest Post: Students Seek Alternatives to Traditional Tutoring As Budget Cuts Persist



At The Textbook Guru, I always want to bring the best advice, insight and tips from other insiders and money-savers. A few weeks ago, we covered some homework help options online. This week,online tutoring site gives us the benefits of using online tutoring sites. 

While budget cuts within schools around the country are showing no signs of slowing, students are turning to other resources as a substitute to traditional forms of education, especially when it comes to finding homework help.

Becoming more and more popular as a result of these rampant budget cuts is the business of online tutoring. Varied are the ways that students can receive homework help, but paying for the help is not out of the question considering so many parents are willing to pay for private “live” tutoring sessions anyway. From paying by the hour to paying by the question, students are finding ways of getting the help they need online.


The benefits of online tutoring are surprisingly obvious. First, students can find help about as quickly and easily as they can type. Not only are online tutors easy to find, but they can be targeted by the subject. With budget restraints, some schools can only afford a few well-rounded tutors, whereas online a student can find tutors for very specific subjects and even individual assignments.


Additionally, questions can be asked anytime of day. If a stumper arises during a late night study session, students would be hard-pressed to find a tutor willing to help after hours. Online, help is just a few clicks away.


Lastly, tutoring online can be a lot cheaper for students, especially when a student may only need help with a single problem. Otherwise, students are forced to face tutors that charge a hefty fee by the hour with a one hour minimum.


Many question the effectiveness of online tutoring since an online tutor may be more financially motivated. As a result, many online tutoring sites are correcting this issue by employing “expert” tutors only. Others tackle this issue by displaying a public letter grade of their tutors along with comments from previous buyers in order to curb hastily thrown-together tutorials. This strategy hopes to alert potential tutor-seekers as to the reliability of each tutor’s services, in much the same way eBay operates.


As the demand for homework help will always be present and the availability of school tutors is currently on the decline, it’s no wonder students are looking for new tutoring alternatives. But as long as students are finding ways to satisfy their thirst for knowledge, and that knowledge is just as high-quality and valuable as traditional forms, perhaps this alternative isn’t the worst route after all. Looks like the internet has saved us once again.


What do you think? Have you (or someone you know) tried online tutoring? Is it as effective? Let me know in the comments!


Guru Roundup: Bringing You the Industry’s Need-to-Know News The Case For Making Online Textbooks Open Source [INFOGRAPHIC]
“As companies compete to digitize the textbook market, there is one approach that shakes the traditional publishing business model: open source textbooks, whose proponents believe online educational tomes should be free. Many universities, including MIT and Carnegie Mellon, post course lectures online for free use. A New York Times article last year explained some of the barriers to applying the same approach to textbooks…”

MarketWire: BookRenter Announces the Next Evolution of the BookRenter Platform Built to Solidify College Stores as the Ultimate Source for Affordable Textbooks
“BookRenter, the largest and fastest growing textbook platform, today announced a major evolution of its platform that will make it easier for college bookstores to leverage their local advantage and compete more effectively for the business of the students they serve. Building on the momentum of its initial offering — adopted by more than 500 stores in 2010 — BookRenter’s expanded platform gives local stores integrated mobile and in-store tools to help them better compete for students’ business against ecommerce sites…” Continue reading

How to Tax Internet Sales and Revenue? The Billion-Dollar Question States Are Asking.

AmazonAs states struggle to find more money for their budgets, many of them have looked to the Internet as a new source of funding. Since its inception as a retail outlet, the Internet has largely been governed by the rules of a 1992 Supreme Court Ruling that states that absent a nexus, online retailers and mail-order companies can sell products online without collecting sales tax.

Two issues from this ruling are fueling the fight. First, the thing we all must consider is that the 1992 ruling doesn’t allow for items to be sold tax-free. It only moves the burden of collecting tax from the selling companies and onto residents to report. Second is the definition of nexus: in the original ruling, nexus is defined as a physical location within the state.

The fight over nexus


 Today, many new laws are being written to change this definition and require Internet companies to collect sales tax and thus “level the playing field” with local and regional businesses that are required to collect sales tax.


The new fight over nexus in many cases is being driven by large retail operations that want to fight powerful eTailers like Amazon and create a fair price comparison online. The argument is being made (and supported in states such as New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, and Illinois) that “affiliates” representing the website and advertising their wares on it are effectively “sales people” of the partner site, thus giving them nexus and requiring them to collect sales tax.  Although not limited to the online giant’s business, this fight has become known as the Amazon Affiliate Tax due to it being in large part about vendors who sell through Amazon and Amazon refusing to charge sales tax save for in states with physical Amazon locations such as corporate headquarters and fulfillment centers.

Currently, in all cases where a state has passed legislation requiring online sellers to charge sales tax, Amazon and other larger Internet retailers have cancelled their relationships with local affiliates because the eTailers refuse to collect the sales tax. With over 19 states with current laws on the books or in discussion, what does the future of the Internet tax look like and what does it mean in our industry specifically?

What does Internet tax mean for us?

The textbook world has been affected as much as any industry and the fight will only get bigger. Remember that Amazon is the biggest player in this scenario and that books were their foray into online selling and remain a bread-and-butter product. Because of the nature of a textbook rental, any company who rents books online physically owns that book while the users “borrow” it for the semester. The possession of ownership by the renting company gives it physical product within the state and thus a nexus for collecting sales tax. Therefore we see every rental company charging and collecting sales tax. My guess is that, given how Amazon is loathe to collect sales tax, this little fact will keep the online giant away from the rentals game for a while.
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Is College Getting Too Expensive?

There have been a lot of announcements about tuition hikes in the news recently. Since tuition is arguably the single largest expense when going to college, will this mean an undergraduate degree will become too expensive to obtain?

Last year the University of California voted to hike tuition fees for undergraduates by 32%, brining the total fee for undergraduates at UCLA and UC Berkeley to over $10,000 per academic year in 2010. There are already warning signs that tuition could more than double in the fall of 2011.

California is not the only state hiking their tuition fees. In Denver, undergraduate students can expect increases of 9% at Boulder, 7% at Colorado Springs and 9% at Denver.

Illinois is no different, with Eastern Illinois University students expected to pay 5.9% more in tuition, as well as University of Illinois, where the tuition rose by 9.5% for the 2010 school year and is scheduled to rise by an additional 6.9% in the fall.

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Guru Roundup: Bringing You the Most-Relevant Industry-Related News

Bookstores and Booksellers
PR Newswire: National Association of College Stores Statement Regarding’s Lawsuit
“ Inc. filed a complaint for declaratory relief against the National Association of College Stores (NACS),Oberlin, OH, in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington. Its sole aim is to halt a proceeding filed by NACS with the New York-based National Advertising Division (NAD) of the Better Business Bureau in which the trade association seeks a review of Amazon’s college textbook pricing and advertising policies. By filing this lawsuit, Amazon has chosen to make public a proceeding that NACS filed on a confidential basis, as required by the NAD. NACS was not trying to achieve any type of public “win” with its filing, but to promote a level playing field by eliminating unsubstantiated advertising claims. NACS has not yet been served with the complaint, but will respond to it in due course…”
“The semester is coming down to the finish line and it’s about that time for students to sell back books for summer pocket money. For some students, it’s nice just to have that little extra money to finish off the semester, but selling back books is a borderline act of robbery. The Sociology Club looks at the processes of how the University of Rhode Island’s textbook policy has been problematic. Each semester, textbook prices continue to rise and students are forced into paying high costs in order to have the correct book for each course in time for the start of classes. The typical scapegoat for students is the Bookstore, but there are complex factors that play a role in why the textbook issue exists…”

A personal note, and New Textbook Editions: Scam or Substance?

 First, a personal note:

Thanks to all the great comments and suggestions I have gotten on this blog.  Over the past week I was able to step back and reflect a bit as I took my family on vacation to Disney World.  Well, I wouldn’t really call it a vacation as we didn’t get much rest, but it was nice to spend time with the family and enjoy seeing my kids experience the magic of Disney.  If you haven’t been in a while the place has really changed–I haven’t been in almost 20 years.  I consider myself a pretty organized person but this trip tested my trip planning and execution skills. There’s so much to do that it’s overwhelming to figure out where to start!  Now that I have spent a few days at each park I am much more knowledgeable (No, I am not starting a new blog).  Pretty cool how one place can cater to people from newborns to senior citizens.

Refreshed and recharged I have a nice calendar of new blog posts to share with you as we start to build up to the August back to school rush.  If you have any stories you want to see, let me know!

With the prices of new textbooks skyrocketing, and new editions coming out every couple of years, many students find themselves wondering if it’s really necessary to buy the newest edition. Sometimes entire chapters are added or page numbers are entirely reshuffled, but in other cases, it’s a few new photos or an introduction. The Irish Independent (albeit in Europe, not the US) asserted that most of the changes to textbooks are surface design changes.

This is important to know for students on a budget, who may not always be able to buy the new edition of every textbook.
Here’s a list of general classes, and whether or not it’s a good idea to use older editions of textbooks assigned to them:

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Teaching moment: Leading your children by money-saving example

Let’s face it. As much as you unconditionally love your kids, raising them is one of the most expensive investments of your life. From diapers, to middle-school fads, to the car, to college tuition, keeping up with your child’s fast paced lifestyle is certainly a financial strain to the Bank of Mom & Dad. Once your kid has grown up faster than you ever hoped for and enters the exciting yet tempting world of college, you can only hope your child does not run into the financial worries that you experienced when raising your not-so-little baby.

Children acquire a lot of their parents’ habits, and good or bad, those habits will translate into their lifestyle when they live on their own. My suggestion to you: develop some money saving routines that your kids will notice. Here are some tips:


Cut coupons

Although the savings seem small at the time, you really end up saving hundreds over the course of a year. When your kid goes off to college, there will be times when he or she gets sick of campus food and will want to venture out for dinner with his or her new group of friends. Encouraging you child to find great restaurant deals will allow them to not only save money, but prevent them from feeling trapped inside of campus. Since college campuses may not get the coupons listed in print media, encourage your child to use digital coupon sites like Groupon or LivingSocial or even checking RetailMeNot to get the best in both restaurants and entertainment.

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