Archive for May, 2012

California Moves to Create Open Education Resources and Low-Cost Textbooks for Students

As a follow-up to a blog I posted in December , the State of California has just yesterday taken a big step forward in reducing the costs of textbooks. In a vote that was almost unanimous, the California Senate approved two measures aimed to save California college students money when buying textbooks.

The first bill creates the process for California to create an Open Education Resources library targeted at the 50 most-common lower-division college courses. The process seeks to have publishers, nonprofits, and other entities bid to create textbooks and provide them to students free in digital format or in print for $20. Faculty will not be mandated to use the materials.

To facilitate the process and approve materials, a California Open Educational Resource Council comprised of faculty members from each state public college system will be created. A companion bill was also approved to create a state digital library as a repository for the materials created.

Using the Creative Commons licensing platform, faculty members will be able to adopt and customize these core titles for use in their classrooms. This process allows for faculty to update and share resources to make the products better with inexpensive iteration updates.

The program California seeks to create is similar to the program launched in the State of Washington in 2011.

Eduction and the Hispanic Market

If you’re looking at how education is changing and you’re not taking into account the changing makeup of the U.S. population, you’re missing a big piece of the puzzle. The Hispanic/Latino population in the United States is growing rapidly and we are just now starting to understand this demographic as a powerful consumer group with regard to technology, education, media, and more.

The other day I was reading the Nielsen Research Study: State of the Hispanic Consumer: The Hispanic Market Imperative in order to see what I could glean about education.

Here are a few facts from the study, facts I think interesting, telling, and important now and moving forward:

  •  The Hispanic population is the largest minority segment in the U.S.
  •  Technology and media use do not mirror the general market but have distinct patterns due to language, culture, and ownership dynamics.
  •  Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic segment and expected to grow 167 percent from 2010 to 2050, compared to 42 percent for the total population.
  •  Over 60 percent of the U.S. Hispanic population is under age 35, and 75 percent is under age 45.
  •  Latino usage rates of television, smartphones, social networking, online video, and other forms of entertainment make Latinos one of today’s most engaged and dynamic targets.
  •  Approximately 60 percent of Latino households own at least one video- and Internet-enabled cell phone, compared to 43 percent of the general market.
  •  Hispanics spend 68 percent more time watching video on the Internet and 20 percent more time watching video on their mobile phones compared to non-Hispanic Whites.
  •  Hispanics are less likely to have Internet access at home compared to the U.S. average (62 percent and 76 percent, respectively).
    Hispanics are three times more likely to have Internet access via a mobile device, but not have Internet at home (9 percent vs 3 percent, respectively).
  •  Hispanics are 28 percent more likely to own a smartphone than non-Hispanic Whites.

Those facts taken into account, what can we conclude?
As a young and growing population, the Latino community is a major consumer of both education and communications technology. When looking at this demographic we need to understand how the Hispanic population consumes technology (in and of itself and how it differs in doing so with regard to other demographics) to account for the changes that are currently taking place and in order to anticipate future trends. Some of the key facts related to Internet access and the differences between home and mobile connectivity dictate that selecting education programs that require a desktop computer or home Internet access may place this demographic at a disadvantage while also making the provider a non-viable choice for students limited to more on-the-go solutions. As the population changes it is important to understand who are students are and how they consume technology.

Bowker Research Confirms Shifting Trends on Textbook Sales

Last week, a press release was sent out by the Book Industry Study Group (BISG) as part of an ongoing study of Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education. While the release was focused on integrated learning systems, it also included a few interesting facts about the changing retail textbook market.

According to Bowker research data:
The study shows textbook rentals rising in the past year (now at 11 percent versus last year’s eight percent), with a corresponding drop in new textbook sales (now at 55 percent versus 59 percent last year). Students are increasingly purchasing textbooks online, notably through Amazon with a marked decline in purchasing through on-campus college bookstores. Textbook acquisition from Amazon rose from 25 percent to 31 percent while acquisition from on-campus stores fell from 52 percent to 46 percent.

These numbers are not surprising but do offer proof about the changing landscape of the retail textbook business. Students are learning how to save and are seeking more opportunities to do so. As we wrap up another buyback season, it will be interesting to see how buyback is affected by the growth of textbook rentals.

Another interesting statistic released in the study was that just 16 percent of college students have a tablet device compared to 76 percent who own a laptop. The study went on to mention that many students are planning to acquire a tablet but without seeing how that question is worded, it is an easy statement to make. Ask any college student — heck, as anyone age 5-75 — if they want a tablet and they will tell you yes. As to which and when at at what price point, that’s not mentioned.

If you want to purchase the full study, you can do so here.

Akademos Faculty Tool

Have you seen this new tool for textbook adoptions? I caught the release while at a conference about a month ago and didn’t think much about it. Then while on a call, I started looking through the site. The team at Akademos has done a good job of taking information and making it easier to digest and find and thus for instructors to choose and secure their course materials. This is the first adoption tool I have seen that integrates both publisher books and OER content. In addition, Akademos is seeking to build a community platform allowing faculty to provide written and video reviews.

The strength of the tool lies in its ability to filter and sort by rating, affordability, adoption popularity, publishing date, and license. While the database includes information from alternative sources such as Flat World Knowledge and OpenStax, it will take a greater effort to include non-complete textbooks that are at the concept level. In the long run, we will no longer look at textbooks as a bound product and actually start to structure curriculum not solely around existing print material considered authoritative but around multiple channels and sources and voices that provide a more-robust course of study.

The Textbook Unbound

Over the past two months I have attended a few conferences on the future of education. While I was excited to see the many changes headed our way, one thing bothered me: the burdensome attachment to the textbook. It seems that in education, we can’t get past the notion of the textbook. In its most basic sense, the textbook is a bound product by which a systematic path to education is paved, but isn’t there more in this day and age?

If we want to move forward, we need to look beyond the textbook and instead at the larger concept of course materials. The study of biology is not a biology textbook along with lectures built around the book; it is a set of concepts that are collectively used to demonstrate and explain the basics of life on earth. Why do we need to follow chapters 1-22 in order to master these concepts? We don’t.

The future of education is in front of us, the bound textbook is behind us. Innovative educators need to find a way to determine the concepts they want to teach in class and then find the best resources and methods for doing so, not just going back between text and talk. We know that what is valuable is a multi-pronged approach to education: instruction via a combination of video, lectures, handouts, and classroom activities. So why are we so stuck with following a textbook?

If you know you want to teach the anatomy of a neuron, why not use the video from Khan Acacdemy ? I found more than 2.8 million results when searching for this term “anatomy of a neuron” on Google, including video demos, printouts, Podcasts, study guides, and more. Why are these not considered as valid or important as the printed textbook?

Transitioning to these new techniques will likely be time consuming. These new sources are not academically reviewed like the textbooks used in classrooms today. Embracing (and even creating) the new requires the educator to spend time to personally review the content, choose the applicable parts, and then source and deliver the material. But isn’t this a more personalized experience? Is it too personalized? Surely this is a curriculum issue and we can’t have rogue instructors teaching their own pet ideas, but if there could be some method and review, there is a lot to gain by this less-rigid approach.

We are far from this being a reality but imagine how liberating a textbook-free future. Consider the ease of updates without printing: edition changes would really be nothing more than updates to links and handouts and really good teachers can post their information to share with others.

The Web was created so that people could share information without physical boundaries. Education is precisely the field that should be embracing this and harnessing the power to reach more students and provide them with more information that is more flexible and up to date than a printed text from decades ago.

eBook Review: Kindle

Welcome to another Textbook Guru eBook review. We’ve already taken a look at a few other platforms (Chegg, Kno, Inkling, CourseSmart and iBooks) but today we are looking at eTextbooks on the Kindle, from Amazon. Many people think of the Kindle as strictly for fiction books, which has been Amazon’s marketing angle for years. However, the Amazon library boasts an ever increasing collection of eTextbooks ranging from K-12 Chemistry books (like the one I’ve selected) all the way to college level texts.

For this review I’m using a Kindle touch 3G w/special offers which has a 6″ screen and multi-touch interface. The features vary from Kindle to Kindle, most dramatically when you jump to the Kindle Fire which has a full color display but some older models use some sort of physical keyboard for navigation rather than touch screen. The ‘special offers’ model saves you $40 off the purchase price but ‘special offers & sponsored screensavers display on Kindle Touch when you’re not reading.’ Basically you save a bit of money by agreeing to let Amazon sell your screensaver as ad space when you’re not reading.



The Kindle has made it’s claim to fame on two main features, any time 3G access to the Amazon library of eBooks and it’s revolutionary eInk/ePaper display. While you can’t use your Kindle’s 3G to surf the web, you can use it to download eBooks from the Amazon library from anywhere with cell reception. This feature is included in all Kindles and does not have an extra fee.

The technology behind the Kindle’s display is truly impressive.  The surface of the screen itself actually looks like paper and has no glare or backlight to strain your eyes. The ePaper is backed by a layer of eInk capsules which are black and will either rise up to the ePaper to display black or fall back to display white depending on the electrical charge applied to them. Essentially the display can negatively or positively charge each point on the display to make it show black or grey.

Amazon Library

Whether you’re browsing textbooks or the latest from Oprah’s book club, the Amazon Kindle library boasts over 1 million titles. You have the option to buy or rent your textbooks as long as the rental period is at least 30 days. One thing I like about rentals on the Kindle is that when your rental period is winding down, you’ll get a notification and have the option to do nothing and the book will become unavailable, extend your rental period or you can purchase the book, applying the already charged rental fee towards the total price of the book.

This method of renting seems the most convenient of the platforms I’ve reviewed so far because it is so adaptive to the way students work. For example, it’s hard to say at the start of a term how useful the required book will be or how much the professor will use it. With this method you could start with the 30 day rental and only extend it if you find you are actually using the book enough to justify it. Also, if you get into the class and realize the book isn’t useful, or you drop a class, you have 7 days to return the rental for a full refund.


My favorite feature, X-Ray, was invented by Amazon for the Kindle and is not available in any other eReader. X-Ray is a feature that “Lets customers explore the ‘bones of the book.'” With Xray you can see the definitions of important words, phrases or names and see a visual diagram of every passage that pertains to that word. In textbook this is particularly helpful for understanding core concepts, vocabulary and remembering important people and events. It is also very useful in fiction books, especially those like Game of Thrones or other fantasy novels with hundreds of characters over thousands of pages.

It also works as a sort of heat map for which topics in your book are most important to pay attention to. Like cliff notes of cliff notes, the X-Ray feature lets you see a top level view of what is important in a chapter or section and easily reference all those key vocabulary words you forgot.


Being one of the first large market eReaders, the Kindle packs all of the features we assume to be standard across all readers today. Search functionality lets you search the book for terms, search the Kindle Store for related books or search Wikipedia or the Dictionary for definitions.

You also have the ability to highlight words or passages which can be referenced later. Anchoring a note to a selected word or passage is easy, although I found typing on the Kindle to be rather difficult and slow with the ePapers slow refresh rate.

An interesting feature I haven’t seen is the ‘Share’ option which allows you to publish a selected bit of text to your connected social media accounts. This feature is probably not a big hit in textbooks, but I can see how it could be fun to share an interesting passage from a novel you’ve been reading or to brag that you were the first in your book club to finish the book of the month.

One of the hallmarks of the Kindle is how easy it is to read the ePaper display, but it can get even easier (or at least more custom) by adjusting the font settings. The Kindle offers 8 font sizes with #3 being the standard and fitting 100% of the intended words for the page.

Font size #1 fits 160% of the words while font size #8 is so large it will only fit 8% of the words, usually about half a sentence. You can also choose between three type faces, regular, condensed and sans serif depending on your preference. Adjusting spacing is also an option allowing you to choose small/medium/large spacing between lines and between words on each line.


The Kindle has a lot of great things going for it. It has an ePaper display which really does feel like you’re reading paper. It has all the standard functionality you’d expect an eReader to have, allowing you to search, change the text dynamically to your liking and highlighting and note functions for studying. Possibly most important, it has a totally free, always on 3G connection to the vast Amazon eBook library.

However, there are a few ways in which it is lacking. While the ePaper display is easy on the eyes and surprisingly can do great grey-scale images, it is not capable of some of the advanced, interactive features many eTextbooks come with today such as 3D modeling, embedded video, interactive diagrams and so on. It is a hybrid with its two feet firmly planted in the digital and print worlds.

That said, whether or not it will be useful for you boils down to personal preference. If you really love the look and feel of printed books and are skeptical about reading on an iPad for example, the Kindle is a great step in the digital direction. Not to mention your chiropractor will thank you later for not carrying around so many textbooks. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an interactive, digitally connected experience to make your boring paper textbook more interesting, there are other platforms that will serve you better.

Dog Days of Blogging

Sorry about my brief blogging hiatus. I realized today that I haven’t posted in nearly a month. Boy, time flies! Over the past month I’ve been busy with trips to the ASU conference on Education Innovation and a family trip to Southern California. I look forward to getting back to blogging and sharing industry happenings and my take on them. I am humbled by the almost daily comments I get from people who read my blog and I look forward to sharing more with you as we build to the August back-to-school period.

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