Archive for October, 2011

Budgetext Closes Its Doors

I’ve had three industry insiders confirm the rumor that Budgetext has closed its doors. Much of the outside sales force has been let go immediately (and probably given some severance package), while the office staff is being retained until the end of the year as they liquidate inventory. From what I can gather, Budgetext has been for sale for about a year. It seems that they didn’t find a buyer and the owners decided to just shut the doors and close the business. No one at the company returned my calls when I attempted to reach them for comment.

The closing of Budgetext is just another hit in a very-bad year in the book business, a year that has seen Nebraska file bankruptcy  and Borders liquidate. In addition, I have heard rumor of several other online retail book sites being shopped around in hopes of being offloaded by current owners. My guess is that since none of them have sold, they face the same unpleasant circumstances encountered by Budgetext, Nebraska, and Borders. Only time will tell.

Purdue University Introduces New App: Jetpack

This week Purdue University launched a new app for students. Developed by ITaP, Jetpack is an eReader style catch all for course materials. Users of the app can download ‘packs’ that contain all materials pertaining to a course or subject. Materials such as class handouts, assigned readings, videos, audio and important links are stored in the packs for quick reference or light studying.
One of the best features is that Jetpack locally stores the data on your mobile device. This means you don’t need to have an Internet connection to view your packs and you don’t have to wait for downloads. Other great features include embedded rich media, HTML5 interactivity and shared comments that are synchronized across devices for easy collaboration. But it does not stop there, Jetpack has more in store for us including “location aware content, QR codes, augmented reality with 3D models, and social integration.”
On the back end, Jetpack collects valuable analytic data on how students are using the material, and how well they did on quizzes or self-assessment tools. This will help ‘pack authors’ to understand what changes need to be made to future versions of Jetpack to streamline and improve performance.
As with all new technologies, the more it is used the more it is improved and I think we have a lot to look forward to from this kind of interactive learning app.I downloaded the Jetpack app on my phone and after toying around with the sample ‘packs’ available, I was very impressed. I certainly would not want to read an entire textbook chapter on my phone, but ‘packs’ are more about providing articles, images and classroom readings in a digital format. The result is an easy to browse set of bit sized information on a subject matter. It’s a great supplement to your traditional or electronic textbook, and makes your bus ride to school or break between classes a lot more productive than playing Angry Birds.

Guru Round Up: This Weeks Industry News

Adaptive Learning Platforms Knewton & Grockit Get Boost to Funding

“Last week, the test prep company Knewton announced that it had raised $33 million, bringing the total amount raised by the company to $54 million. And today, another test prep startup Grockitannounces its latest fundraising: $7 million, bringing its total investment to over $24 million. Clearly there’s big money in test prep. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry, fueled in no small part by the pressures on students to do well on SATs, GMATs, LSATs, and the like.”

America’s Top Schools Are Still Mediocre Against International Peers

“We developed the Global Report Card (GRC) to facilitate such a comparison. The GRC enables users to compare academic achievement in math and reading between 2004 and 2007 for virtually every public school district in the United States with the average achievement in a set of 25 other countries with developed economies that might be considered our economic peers and sometime competitors. “

Online Schools Making a Difference Graduation Rates of at Risk Teens

“The International Association for K–12 Online Learning, which goes by the acronym iNACOL, estimates that 82 percent of school districts now offer at least one online course. Thirty-two states have virtual schools where online offerings range from one class to an entire high-school curriculum, according to an annual report on online learning published by the Evergreen Education Group, a Colorado consultancy. At the Florida Virtual School alone, students collectively took 220,000 classes online in 2009–10 (see “Florida’s Online Option,”features, Summer 2009). Twenty-six states have at least one full-time online school, and perhaps 225,000 youngsters were full-time online students this year, says John Watson, editor of the Evergreen report.”

Can Charter School Success Work In Traditional Schools?

“It’s difficult, but a new study suggests, it’s also doable. Harvard economist Roland Fryerpublished research last week showing that the education policies that have succeeded in charter schools can also increase test scores in traditional, public schools.
Fryer looked at “No Excuses” charter schools, places like the Harlem Promise Academy and KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools, to get a sense of how they had made such big education gains in low-income communities. He boiled it down to five “best practices,” including longer school days, better teachers and data-driven education, that emphasized education gains.”

Bundle Discount, Now Available From CollegeBookRenter

“Every student is looking for new ways to save on their books.  Today we’re featuring our new “bundle discount”.  Bring us your book list and we will give you an automatic additional discount when you rent 3 or more books at one time.   CBR is known to have the most competitive prices on individual books, but when you bundle your order, you save even more. ”

Colleges Attempt to Make Tuition More Affordable

The cost of tuition has always been a touchy subject for students who watch their debt pile up each semester, but colleges have long been hush hush about the issue. The effects of the economy on prospective freshmen and their families seems to have been felt by some colleges that are now looking for innovative and competitive ways to attract applicants. Here are a few examples of how colleges are changing their tactics and addressing student concerns about mounting tuition costs.

1. Seton Hall College: Private Education at Public School Price

Students enrolling directly from high school can save $21,336 by paying tuition equal to Rutgers in-state tuition rate. This rate also comes with a four year (8 sememster) lock in to guarantee the price won’t go up. This discount applies to any incoming freshman who:

  • Has a minimum of a 27 ACT composite score or combined 1200 on the ciritcal reading and math sections of the SAT with not less than 550 on either section
  • Is in the top 10 percent of their high school class; and
  • Applies by December 15th

Matching competitor prices is something that retail business’ are very familiar with, but it’s a slower, more gradual process in the academic world. The fact that Seton Hall is going directly after their local in-state competition by matching their price is a huge step forward in the market.

2. Grace College: 3 Year Degree

Students at Grace College are eligible to enter their accelerated 3 year degree program. The program requires students maintain at least 18 credit hours per semester and at least 12 total credits during the summer. In essence they are requiring summer courses to make up for the missing fourth year, however this offers several advantages.

Less Time: By completing your degree in less time you enter the work force one year sooner. This means you can start working and paying back your loans more quickly and with a little luck be out of debt sooner than your 4 year degree counter parts.
Less Money: Eliminating an entire year out of your degree saves a lot of money. Not just in tuition and books but in living expenses. For anyone in college, cutting out even just that years worth of entertainment expenses (movies, music, party’s, etc.) can save a lot, not to mention rent, gas, food and utilities.

3. Baldwin Wallace College: 4 Year Graduation Guarantee

Baldwin Wallace College is attempting to help families ‘avoid higher education costs associated with postponed graduation’ by guaranteeing that you will graduate in 4 years. This isn’t a money back guarantee, but they will pay your tuition for however many extra semesters it takes you to complete your degree.  Its true that some degree programs are so intense that students take an extra year or two to complete them. More commonly though, students waste too many credit hours trying to decide which major to choose and end up with a semester or more worth of credits that don’t count for anything.

What does this all mean for students? In short it marks a shift in the academic market. College has continued to get more expensive even as the economy and job market deteriorate. Now schools are finally reacting, probably in response to dropping application numbers as many students are being more frugal in their college choices.

It is my hope that this increase in competition for applicants spurs further innovation by colleges. Most of these programs are new, being implemented in the 2012 school year, but if they are successful and financially benefit the college as well as the student, I expect to see similar programs roll out across more schools in the future.

eBook Review: Kno

There is a lot of excitement in the academic world about the use of electronic textbooks in the classroom. Teachers are excited about the potential of this technology to enhance learning through the use of multimedia and interactive features. Students are excited about the potential for eBooks to bring down the enormous textbook costs they face every term. However, what people are so excited about is still just potential. Some of it has come into being, but a lot has yet to be realized. So with that in mind, I set out to try the different ebook platforms for myself.  So many in the media are just reprinting stories and features but I question if they have picked up the device and  actually tried it.  I know I hadn’t…but now I have!

When choosing electronic textbooks you have to first choose a platform to purchase them from. For the test I chose to go with, since it boasts one of the largest catalogs and claims to be “#1 in eTextbooks.” Next is selecting the device to read your textbooks on, and with Kno you have some choices. You can read your books on the web through any web browser, right on your Facebook account through a custom Kno application, or on your iPad by downloading the Kno app from iTunes. For the sake of portability and their rising popularity I chose to read my textbooks on my iPad. It’s important to note that not all books are available on all platforms as I learned the hard way since the text I selected is only available on iPad (possibly because of the 3D features). This is noted in the book description, so if multiple platforms are important to you, make sure you read all the notes on the screen.

The textbook I purchased was Chemistry, eighth edition by Steven S. Zumdahl and Susan A. Zumdahl. Why chemistry? There are few classes that require more time with your nose in the text than sciences, and for me chemistry was always the most difficult, so there you go. Also, this is one of 5 books Kno offers that feature 3D modeling technology, which is something I just had to see for myself.  After creating an account, downloading the Kno app on my iPad and then downloading the rather large textbook file, I was ready to go.


Right away I was impressed with the app interface. It took a little while to figure out their organization structure, but even without digging into it you can immediately find all your purchased textbooks on the home screen. Their organization makes it easy to find a book you’re looking for if you have several by dividing them by course and your courses by term.

If your textbooks typically have post it notes spilling out of them and every page is covered in color coded highlighter marks, then you’re in luck. Highlighting text in your e-book is just as easy as and less messy than in your paper version, it’s just a tap and drag motion, much like unlocking the home screen on your iPad or iPhone. You can select one of 4 colors and attach a sticky note that is anchored to that specific selection. Being accurate with your highlighting is difficult, and it may take a few tries to select exactly the text you’re after, but this is more a problem with touch screens in general than the Kno app specifically. If you’ll be doing lots of highlighting, it might be smart to invest in a stylus for more accurate selections.

In addition to yellow sticky notes that are specific to the highlighted text they are anchored to, you can write blue sticky notes at any time and leave them attached to the page you are on. This makes for quick reference later when you are flipping through looking for a specific notation. Reviewing your own notes is made even easier by the Journal feature which allows you to view all highlighted text and sticky notes, along with a thumbnail of the page they are attached to. This makes for quick reference and definitely beats flipping from page to page looking for that one line of text. However, if you notate incessantly it might be just as difficult to find any one note when flipping through a multitude Journal entries. You can also book mark pages with one tap, and move between book marks quickly and easily.

One thing I found interesting is that at this time you cannot transfer notes, bookmarks or highlights between platforms. That means when you take notes on one platform, iPad in my case, you cannot access any of that information when viewing on the web or Facebook. Based on the warning message I got (above) it sounds like this is something that will be changed in the future. I certainly hope they find a way to transfer notations between platforms, otherwise you are pretty much locked into using whichever platform you begin taking notes in first.

With science books that use lots of charts, graphs and tables, the zoom feature is pretty handy, however on, say, history books it wouldn’t be quite as useful as you’ll probably read the whole book at the native resolution. However, say you’re looking through a digital history text for sections about the battle of Normandy, instead of skimming the index you can search for it. You can easily search from the app either by using the search bar at the top, or by highlighting words or phrases. You get the options to search the entire book, search the web or directly search Wikipedia, which is my usual go to for in-depth explanation.

Quiz Me:

Quiz Me is a beta feature which allows you to quickly quiz yourself on any table, graph or chart in the book. This feature is accessed by double tapping the section in question which will bring up a pop up quiz.  The quiz works by blacking out text in the selected table and allowing you to ‘fill in the blanks’ from a list of all the omitted lines. However the first time I tried this it asked me to fill in the title of the table, but did not turn the actual data of the table into ‘fill in the blank’ questions. I had the opposite problem when I turned the periodic table into a quiz since it blacked out every bit of text on the page, making each a selectable answer. So when I went to fill in the info for Helium, I had to scroll through about 200 lines of answers to find the ones I was looking for. This way of automatically generating a quiz based on the content you are reading is exactly the kind of innovative feature that makes eBooks exciting and I’m interested to see how it advances after the beta testing is complete and some of the kinks are worked out.

Using the Book:

While most pages seemed like normal textbook pages, I noticed that on several there were blacked out areas where images were supposed to be. These all had the text ‘Image not available due to copyright restrictions’ in the center. It’s hard to say exactly how detrimental this would be to studying, as there are lots of images in any textbook that are just added visual ‘flavor’ without any real value and I would assume that they would not omit anything vital.

My most frustrating complaint is with the app stability. Several times while attempting to do ‘complicated’ gestures like double tapping to zoom or swiping too quickly between pages the app froze and crashed. My other phone and iPad apps crash on me all the time and it’s something many of us have come to expect from technology, but it is not something to be expected from a book. This may become very tiresome during a marathon study session in the library, but for normal use it’s a minor inconvenience that will become less problematic as the app is refined.

3D Modeling:

Finally, the 3D modeling technology is one of Kno’s biggest selling points. The ability to tap on your book and see a 3D version of a chemical compound is very cool, and being able to spin, flip and zoom into it is a lot of fun. This is also a feature that I feel really shows off the potential of e-books to revolutionize the way we use textbooks to study. However, the usefulness of this 3D modeling is subjective, and for some people, like me, it will be novel to play with, but probably doesn’t add any value to your understanding of the subject matter. If I look at this as a technology that has room to improve I can totally see how this may be useful as they improve it with future versions.  Imagine a basic biology book where you need to dissect a frog.  You can see a 3d model of the frog and swipe to remove sections, spin it to see different angles and really peal back the layers as you dissect.

While we are on the subject of 3D, I’d like to point out something about Kno’s return policy. I specifically chose this title for the 3D, but I unintentionally downloaded the regular, non-3D version of the text. After flipping through and not seeing any 3D I went online to chat with Kno’s customer service and find out where it was. After downloading the book himself and checking for me, Tyler (Kno’s customer service rep) informed me that I had bought the wrong copy. He quickly processed the return of my current copy and sent me a link to the correct, 3D enabled copy of the text. Because I was careful not to go past a certain point in the book (page 59 for this book) I was still eligible for Kno’s 15 day return policy, and with Tyler’s help it was a painless and smooth process. So if you’re skeptical about the switch to digital, you have 2 weeks to take the eBook to class and try it out.


Overall, I thought the Kno app was easy to use and the interface was very intuitive. Purchasing, downloading and organizing your course books is incredibly simple and just the fact that you don’t have to carry around a 10lb book (or several) is a huge bonus. Many of the features that make Kno better than an other eBook app are still in beta and while I see the potential of them really having an impact I still think they need some work.  The basic features for reading, managing notes and referring back to martial are solid.  I can see this app really improving overtime as some of the bugs are worked out and key features are enhanced.

The thoughts represented in the blog are soley those based on my experience with the book.  Kno did not provide me with a free copy of the book nor did they ask me to highlight any features.  As I review more options that a student has I will look to compare applications to one another.

Guru Round Up: This Weeks Industry News

Amazon Turns the Kindle Into a Local Library

“Amazon threw down the gauntlet against terrestrial competitors today by announcing that Kindle and Kindle app customers can borrow and purchase Kindle books from more than 11,000 local libraries in the United States.”

Google’s Ngrams gets a New Competitor: Bookworm

“A new tool, called Bookworm released by Harvard’s Cultural Observatory offers another way to interact with digitized book content and full text search. Bookworm doesn’t rely on the Google digitization efforts, but rather uses books in the public domain. It is also less concerned with tracking the history of a word or phrase, but rather helps enable searches of other library metadata, including genre, author information, publication place and date.”

The Learning Black Market

“In simple terms students personal use of the internet is generally very effective for their education but they are nervous that their practices are not valid and don’t reveal them to their tutors. The messages or lack of messages from educational institutions on these practices is generating a learning black market which masks the sheer scale of these new modes of engagement.”

Paying Students Pays Off

“South High students said Mr. Nystrom and his colleagues had transformed the culture of a tough urban school, making it cool for boys with low-slung jeans who idolize rappers like Lil Wayne to take the hardest classes.
They were helped by the National Math and Science Initiative, a nonprofit network that provided laboratory equipment and special training for teachers and organized afternoon tutoring and Saturday sessions. It also paid $100 each to students who scored a 3 or above on the A.P. exam— and to their teachers, who can also earn additional rewards. Because 43 of his students passed the exam this year, far above his target, Mr. Nystrom will add a $7,300 check to his $72,000 salary.”

College Offers Discounted Tuition to Early Applicants

“Starting next year, Seton Hall University will try to ease that follow-up blow for early applicants with strong academic credentials, giving them two-thirds off the regular sticker price for tuition, a discount of some $21,000. For New Jersey residents, who constitute about 70 percent of Seton Hall’s undergraduates, that would make the cost equivalent to that of Rutgers University, the state’s flagship public institution; for those from out of state, the private school would be much cheaper than the public one.”

Amazon Welcomes Back California Affiliates

In late June, Amazon severed ties with its California affiliates as a result of being unable to come to an agreement with the state about sales-tax collection. The law enacted at this time, Assembly Bill X28 1, required online retailers to collect sales tax where applicable, just as bricks-and-mortar retailers are required to do. This affected some 10,000 sellers registered under the Amazon Affiliate Program.

Unwilling to enforce such legislation, Amazon severed ties with affected affiliates, just as they have done in other states enacting similar laws. But California is not other states and 10,000 affiliates is a lot to lose and a lot of partners to upset, especially for unprecedented proceedings (all of this is very nebulous as in addition to the nexus element being difficult to pin down, the rules surrounding online retail are still sort of being made up as we go along in this brave new Web-commerce world).

The outcome in late June was something that no one wanted (save for maybe physical retailers who saw it as leveling the playing field slightly). Affiliates lost income, Amazon lost income and looked a bit of a spoilsport taking its ball and going home when not getting its way, and the state and Governor Jerry Brown appeared to be limiting commerce. It was in almost everyone’s best interest to sort this out or at least postpone it.

And that is what happened through a series of compromises and the resulting solution is by no means a permanent one so much as it is buying time. Enter Assembly Bill 155, which requires Amazon to begin collecting online sales tax in California, but not until September 2012 and only if the retail giant and the federal government  fail to reach a uniform online sales tax policy and get it enacted by Congress in July 2012.

So what is this? Well, basically it’s a lifeline in the form of a year-long extension and a way for both Amazon and the state of California to pass the buck and up the issue from a state’s problem to a federal one. All parties feel optimistic of resolution before the grace period expires and Amazon has publicly committed to supporting a “simple, nationwide system of state and local sales tax collection.” This would seemingly satisfy the company, the states, affiliates, and bricks-and-mortar businesses though all will have to revise their expectations and compromise in order to move forward.

In the meantime, California Amazon affiliates are being welcomed back to the fold . . . for now.

College Dorm Survival Guide Pt. 3: The Rules

The transition into dorm life can be a difficult one for many college freshmen. Some simply are not accustomed to taking care of themselves and others go a little crazy without parental supervision. Most freshmen do just fine, but after the allure of being away from your parents wears off and the excitement of dorm life fades, you start to realize that you have an entire year to live in a small dorm room, in a hall full of strangers.

Fortunately they won’t be strangers for long, but that’s part of the lessons I hope to show you today. From how to live with a total stranger, to avoiding trouble with the RA and the police, I hope to help you navigate your dorm life successfully with a few tips and tricks from those of us who have been there and made those mistakes you’re hoping to avoid.


No one goes to college looking to get in trouble, but it does happen, and every year students get kicked out of their dorm for violating rules. In my own freshman dorm, my neighbor got kicked out the second week of classes in a whirlwind of drama and with 4 felony charges against him. Now that’s a bit of an extreme situation, but there are lots of little things you can do to safe guard yourself against an unfortunate call to your parents.

Rules to live by:
1. Don’t do illegal things in your dorm
2. Don’t do illegal things in your dorm
3. If you do illegal things in your dorm, don’t do it with your music up during ‘quiet hours.’ That’s the only excuse an RA needs to knock on your door and pop their head in.
4. It is IMPOSSIBLE to discreetly smoke in your dorm room. It’s best to do that outside, and your fellow residents will appreciate it.
5. RAs are not stupid, and whatever ‘trick’ you think you have come up with has already been used by someone, maybe even your RA (they were residents at one point too).
6. It is IMPOSSIBLE to have more than 3-4 people in your dorm room without it sounding like a party. The more people you have in your room, the more attention you attract to yourself. Plus, no one likes going to ‘standing room only’ parties.
7. RAs regularly do rounds during the evening, and double on weekends, some as late as 2am. Breaking rules in your room during these times is the quickest way to get caught.
8. If and when you finally do get caught breaking a rule in the dorm, remember #5 from this list and just cooperate. Chances are if the RA is at your door, you’re already done for, but if you cooperate and are apologetic, it will go into their report, giving you the possibility of mercy when your fate is decided later by the complex or building director.
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