Archive for November, 2011

20MM and Kno Launch Open Source eTextbook

Electronic textbooks and open source content have been hot topics in education recently as students, teachers and administrators get excited over these game changing technologies. Now, thanks to 20 Million Minds and Kno, we are seeing the two meet in a commercially viable model for the first time. The two companies have joined forces to launch the nation’s first web 2.0, open source eTextbook  for college students.

20MM plans to produce open source etextbooks for the top 25 courses taken by undergraduates in the nation, with general statistics being one of the largest of these courses. Looking just at California community colleges, over 120,000 students take general statistics every year, and with an average new book price of over $150, these students collectively spend over $10 million per year on books for this single course.

Now they can turn to Kno, where they can get a free PDF of Collaborative Statistics, 2nd Eddition, written by Barbara Illowsky and Susan Dean, faculty members at De Anza College in Cupertino, California. Kno also offers an enhanced version of the text, which allows you to use all the features Kno offers on it’s other titles, for $20 for the semester. “The reason that I am involved in this project is taht I believe this enhanced version goes well beyond that of a flat PDF to increase student learning. WE already have a free textbook. Now I want to improve the learning experience by offering students what I consider a Web 2.0 experience,” said Illowsky.

This kind of partnership between for-profit companies like Kno and non-profits like 20MM may be just what we’ve been waiting for to take open source textbooks to the next level. “This new offerin is designed for college students to improve their learning experience, results and significantly lower the textbook cost,” said Dean Florez, President of 20MM Foundation. “This digitally enhanced etextbook provides a vision of what is now possible for a new generation of open content and authors.”

With such a promising partnership, and 24 more open source etextbooks planned, it’s an exciting time for cash-strapped undergrads everywhere. Florez predicts “massive adoption by faculty by spring 2012,” a lofty goal but whether it catches on this spring or next, there’s no doubt this is a threat for many publishers and a game changer for college students.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan Takes on Twitter in Interview

This past week Secretary of Education Arne Duncan took on the questions of the Twitterverse during the #AskArne Twitter Town Hall interview. Journalist John Merrow moderated the interview, fielding questions from Twitter on the subjects of teachers, charters, school choice and student debt.


Here are some of the highlights of what Arne had to say.

On Charter Schools:
Question – @tbfurman: Has the charter school movement begun to “police itself” – as you asked them to do last July? #AskArne

Response – @usedgov: Arne on charters: I see bad charters being phased out & closed down. There’s more work to be done. #AskArne
@usedgov: Arne: Need a high bar for charter schools. The chance to educate children is a sacred obligation. #AskArne
@usedgov: Duncan: Where charter schools are high-performing, we want to support them. Where they aren’t, they’re part of the problem. #AskArne

On Choice:
Question – @SteveGrose: Mich lawmakers are on a path to increase school choice without requiring improved quality. Is choice a reform model? #askarne

Response – @usedgov: Arne: For choice to work, it has to be choices between quality. #AskArne
@usedgov: Arne: It’s really important to empower parents. If parents are not empowered, I’d have a problem with that. #AskArne

On Student Loan Debt:
Question – @EDSuccess: #AskArne what policies are @usedgov considering to address student loan debt at public and non-profit schools?

Response – @usedgov: Very proud of Obama admin’s progress on student aid, esp direct lending to cut out middlemen banks and put $40B into Pell Grants #AskArne
@usedgov: Find out more about lowering your student loan payments at

On Early Education:
Questions – Stacy Casson: #AskArne When will this country make a serious investment in early childhood education for all children. Proven ROI as seen in Head Start.

Response – @usedgov: Re: early learning, it’s the best investment we can make. And @USEDgov is investing $500M into states for access to quality. #AskArne

You can watch the entire interview here:

Departments of Education and Defense Team up to Launch $2.6M Learning Registry

Last week the Departments of Defense and Education announced the launch of a new education resource called the ‘Learning Registry.’ The idea is for the Learning Registry to be “an open source community and technology designed to improve the quality and availability of learning resources in education.” To call it a database of resources would be a bit of a disservice as the site is designed around community and collaboration between educators, administrators and organizations.

Funded by a $2.6 million investment, half from Dept. of Defense, half from Dept. of Education is a hefty price tag, but the project creators see it as a first step down a long path of innovation. Their official press release for the site launch states that “the learning Registry community and technology are intended to create opportunities for future innovation in areas that are just now starting to be explored.”

We’ve seen a lot of innovation in this space recently, such as the Washington State Board’s Open Course Library which we covered a few weeks ago or Curriki , a K-12 open learning resource which got a $3M donation 2 months ago. It’s very exciting to see this kind of money being dedicated to making education materials available for free, but these kinds of resources really are just the first step.

The next steps are more crucial and less obvious. For one, what will be done with these resources now that they are available? It’s really up to educators to use these resources to their full potential, and beyond that for state boards of education and the Dept. of Education to help integrate these resources into the way students are taught. It really seems like we are seeing the groundwork laid for big changes, but availability of resources is not enough and structural changes to the way school districts buy and manage educational resources is a crucial next step.

Textbooks for Free: Future Fact or Fiction?

 I get emails and phone calls wondering if, and how, eBooks will reshape the higher-education space. While many of us are still waiting to see eBooks really take hold, we all know that change is coming and probably faster than we think. But haven’t we been saying that for a while now? Haven’t we been told to expect the end of print for a decade or so? And even while eBooks and digital readers are gaining in popularity, the printed tome is very much still alive.

I’m pretty sure the real change is coming, it’s not too far away, and it will look nothing like what is currently being used. As more players come into the space, the development will move faster and the product will only get better. I don’t see a variation of what’s already around, I see something new that changes the game rather than tinkers with it.

The post for today is about a free textbook. How can this be true? Well, in the past we have discussed projects like 20 Million Minds and the State of Washington’s push towards cheaper textbooks, now I can introduce you to another such product that is looking to reshape education. Meet, founded by Ron Larson, PhD, a mathematician and award-winning author of more than 200 textbooks. His books are currently used by over 5 million students.

The AndYou series will kick off today and is free to view, print, and read. The books are available online, for download, and in loose leaf as well as paperback and hardcover print. Reviewing the online series, you’ll find that all of the content is original, insightful, and easy to understand. When discussing the book with Dr. Larson he explained that his first book “Math and You” is targeting liberal arts majors who are required to take a math course but are looking for more practical math they can use in everyday life. If you look through the table of contents of this textbook, you can see that is exactly what they get with chapters on taxes, fitness & sports, borrowing and savings, and much more.

When asked why he has made the content available for free, Dr. Larson says that his investment in the product is based on the fact that students will want some type of print edition to complement the free online version. It’s a calculated risk that he was willing to take. From what we have seen in the industry, he’s probably right as many professors are looking for books that extended to the Web and offer interactive feature, but neither they nor students are entirely ready to give up print. Dr Larson goes on to explain that if you look at the cost of his book in comparison to others that would target the same audience, his hardcover price is still 33% less than what major publishers are charging.

Some of the interactive features in the series include the ability to engage in a dialog with the author and his staff. Larson Publishing has three full-time employees reviewing comments and answering questions as students ask. In addition, the book has many practical data sets that students can download in order to participate in hands-on exercises.

I think the AndYou series is a step in the right direction. Now comes the tricky part: getting faculty to buy in to this format and adopt these texts. We all know that eBooks are considered the new wave in education, but the real solution that needs to be solved is how to make education more affordable to those who are trying to better themselves through it.

Washington State Board Launches Open Course Library

This past Monday the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges announced the launch of the Open Course Library to help college students combat the rising cost of education by making textbooks available for $30 or less. The state of Washington has put up $750,000 which was matched by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to make the library possible.

The project has been broken into phases, with Monday’s launch of phase 1 featuring materials for 42 common courses including Introduction to Chemistry and Calculus I. Phase 2 will launch in the Spring of 2013 and will add another 39 courses to the library. A team of instructors, instructional designers and librarians developed and peer reviewed the current 42 available courses, using available open source materials to put together course materials that stay within the $30 limit.

“Evidence shows the burden of high college expenses can impact student success and degree completion,” said Shaunta Hyde, State Board member and director of Global Aviation Policy for Boeing Commercial Airplanes. “By offering high-quality, affordable resources, this initiative will ultimately lead to more college graduates with better job prospects.”

The Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRGs) conducted an informal study which estimates that the Open Course Library could save students as much as $41.6 million on textbooks annually if adopted at all of Washington’s community and technical colleges. However, the 42 faculty course developers and their departments are estimated to save students $1.26 million by using these materials during the current school year, a full $80,000 more than the cost of creating the program. “These savings will not only help Washington’s students afford college, but clearly provide a tremendous return on the original investment,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs.

This is one of several small steps being taken across the nation to make education more affordable for students and for such legislation to get funding in a time of staggering budget cuts is truly inspiring. Washington’s Open Course Library is leading a charge that I sincerely hope gains a lot more steam, and with the planned addition of 39 more courses in  2013, it seems the Library may continue to grow. The question now is whether or not this project can be repeated and gain state funding across other parts of the country.

Guru Round-Up: This Weeks Industry News

4EyesOnMe Takes Student Grading Data to a Whole New Level

4EyesOnMe taps into what’s becoming an increasingly important trend in helping make data accessible and actionable: visualizations and info-graphics. The idea is to take information from assessments and put it into a format so that teachers can more easily make a student’s progress understandable to parents. It’s also in a format too that students themselves can understand. The site plans on taking student data and turning it into personalized infographics for each family.”

Claim Your Textbook Spend on Your Taxes

“According to the National Association of College Stores“keeping track of their course material expenses could save college students and their families up to $2,500 annually.  Under The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and extended by the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010, a tax credit of up to $2,500 each year has been authorized for out-of-pocket higher education expenses for course materials, tuition, and fees for 2009 through 2012.  Forty percent of the credit is refundable”.”

Student Loan Debt Surpasses Credit Card Debt

“The amount of student loans taken out last year crossed the $100 billion mark for the first time and total loans outstanding will exceed $1 trillion for the first time this year. Americans now owe more on student loans than on credit cards, reports the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the U.S. Department of Education and private sources. Students are borrowing twice what they did a decade ago after adjusting for inflation, the College Boardreports. Total outstanding debt has doubled in the past five years — a sharp contrast to consumers reducing what’s owed on home loans and credit cards.”

Inkling Pushes Platform by Publishing Cookbook

The Professional Chef. The book is a textbook, one written by the Culinary Institute of America and used in culinary schools everywhere. But it’s also a cookbook that anyone can use. Cookbooks are, as a genre, an interesting blend of instruction manual and DIY learning tool.”

%d bloggers like this: