Archive for the ‘ Insider Tips & Tricks ’ Category

Chegg – Internet Study Hall – Banking on the Future

If you’ve been following Chegg as I have, you’ve seen a company grow and nimbly stretch in many different directions in attempts to innovate. Chegg has evolved from a classifieds website into a textbook-rentals giant. When Chegg entered the textbook rental market, well . . . there was no market and they shaped the game. Sure, it could be argued that Book Renter (Rafter) and Campus Book Rentals were on the scene and rentals were occurring on campus, but it was nothing like we see today and Chegg deserves a lot of the credit for the ubiquity of rentals now.

As the Chegg engine grew and more competitors entered the rentals marketplace, company decision-makers knew that they need to be something more than just a rentals company. The market was begging for a solution to eBooks. While I don’t think eBooks are necessary right now (they represent just 3-5% of textbooks sales in higher education), it is clear that a digital strategy (beyond eBooks) is necessary going forward. Chegg made some serious investments into digital, and as I have discussed in my earlier reviews, the results are pretty impressive.

What is just as impressive is how the company is starting to put together the “social graph” they have been discussing for over a year. This endeavor began as Chegg started making several acquisitions, including Cramster, Student of Fortune, NoteHall, and Zinch. It seemed they were buying ambitious one-offs focused on additional learning materials, and the overall picture of how they would integrate users into a single interface or provide a single product was a bit unclear.

Earlier this year Chegg showed the fruits of their acquisitive and integrative labor in the form of the new Chegg website that allows students to plan classes, get homework help, interact with classmates and peers using the same materials, and of course rent textbooks. So the question here was really one of “We built it, will they come? Is this a product that students desire or is it technology folly for marketing and programming departments?” It seems that the answer is that students do want this, overwhelmingly so.

According to a recent survey released by Chegg (source: PR Newswire), students are collaborating both in person and online and interested in doing so even more. Some numbers:

Students are collaborating both in person and online.

  •  47% plan to or are considering using an online study group in the upcoming school year.
  • 40% would be very or extremely likely to use an online study group.
  • 51% would be likely or extremely likely to chat online with an expert in real time to answer questions.
  • The number of students planning to use online tutoring or homework help this school year is expected to double from last year.
  • The number of students who might try online tutoring or homework help next year will increase 5X.

The need for education-focused technology tools is exploding.

  •  64% would be very likely or extremely likely to use an online assistant that automatically compiles study materials for each class.
  •  45% would be very or extremely likely to use online courses.
  •  44% would be very likely or extremely likely to use an app store for finding learning tools.
  •  39% said online study guides are very helpful.

Interactive content is the next frontier in education.

  •  67% said they would be very or extremely likely to use video tutorials that explain difficult concepts.
  •  62% would be very or extremely likely to use audio lectures of their class supplemented with lecture notes and highlights.
  •  32% said interactive simulations of concepts are very helpful.

Chegg is banking on these numbers turning into sales, memberships, and revenue. If so, the social graph will be complete and Chegg will have demonstrated its ability to generate revenue in a year-round model, something that others have tried to do in the past but failed.

Five New Technologies That Have Changed the Digital Classroom

In the recent past, the suggestion of getting a college degree without ever cracking a book meant paying a degree mill. It meant the degree was name only, reflecting neither learning nor effort. Then distance learning meant correspondence courses, perhaps combined with some coordinated telecasts. Technology has already changed all that, and the future will change it even further.


Now, online college students can obtain legitimate college degrees without cracking a book– but that doesn’t mean they don’t have to read. Even with hard copy texts available, most students download their textbooks in password protected Portable Document Format (PDF). Not only is this a “green” alternative, but you avoid the weight of having to carry around textbooks.

Students can copy the PDF to mobile devices, and carry all of their texts on one iPad or Galaxy Tab. They choose to print whole books, only parts, or just use the digital document. A drawback to depending on protected PDFs is that they only open with active internet connections — but once opened students can use them until closed.

Virtual Libraries

Most online school programs — even those which still use correspondence course designs have robust virtual libraries – something that never existed 15 years ago. Many colleges and universities contract with EBSCO Publishing to maximize available peer reviewed journals. Even traditional students use EBSCO Host in college libraries. Distance learners access the same journals as campus students — from anywhere in the world. Students quickly build up their own virtual libraries of thousands of journal articles, just as mobile as any e-text. Renaming these files as closely as possible to the required bibliographic format, and cataloguing them, keeps them organized, accessible, and easy to cite in papers.

Online School Portals

Until now, resources for modern distance learning seem only different in form from correspondence courses. That changes with online school portals. These virtual campuses come complete with individual rooms for each class. They are so significant an innovation that they could change the future of on campus studies. Anticipating how ubiquitous technology should become, some schools already require on campus students to take at least one class online. This innovation means students need not all be present at once. More, many schools are now integrating social media into their portals – so students can correspond about classes and socially connect for pleasure.

Each school has minimum requirements for quality, quantity and timeliness of posts and responses. The most successful online college students check-in early and often.

Webcams & Teleconferencing

With the advance of higher bandwidth, real time webcasts have become a reality for online courses. Some schools still set most of their distance learning around attending formal classes, and allow this method as a supplement. Other colleges choose to use up such heavy bandwidth only for specific lessons, allowing students and teachers to get to know each other better. Lectures that do not change need not have all the students watch at once, so schools now make them available to download as needed. Downloading is quickly replacing mailed audio and video recordings as a preferred media delivery method. Webcams and teleconferencing have added a new element of interactivity to the virtual classroom that cannot be matched.

Mobile Apps & Augmented Reality

Mobile apps may present the biggest challenges for colleges with growing online programs. Augmented Reality (AR) apps interest schools. This cutting-edge technology is so young that its full potential still requires exploration. AR allows students to point mobile device cams at objects around them. The screen image offers information about what they see. Schools might use them for mobile testing, for example asking questions about objects on museum visits or historic tours. They could allow astronomy students to point a device at the night sky for the screen to identify stars or outline constellations. Common availability of such apps may still be out of reach. Their promise shows that with technology in distance learning, the sky really is the limit.

Why Can’t I Buy My Book Any Where But the Bookstore? Reaction

The article written on Why Can’t I Buy My Book Any Where But the Bookstore? Part 1 and Part 2 have provided some extra comments and I wanted to share them with you.  Here are what some others have said about the topic.

Rafter –

Brian Jacobs – Akadamos –

Response from NACS –

This is obviously hot topic with many opinions.  Feel free to share your thoughts below.

Stats and Facts on Investing in the Education Technology Sector

Ever wonder who’s investing in education? What trends are taking shape and how things changing in terms of financial backing? Well, the world of ed-tech is not nearly as hot as some other industries when it comes to capital and investments, but that’s not to say that it isn’t growing and full of potential. We’ve all heard the stories of Chegg raising money, and while they are indeed in the pole position, there are plenty of other drivers on the track. Could we really be in a boom-time for education startups and a heated race to reach a lucrative finish?

Here’s some indication that we may be: GSV is a strategic firm that is focused on the education sector and a major player in the ASU Education Summit. Earlier this month, they released the first in a two-part series called “Fall of the Wall – Capital Flows to Education Innovation.” This 110-page document reviews the current state of the education sector and describes trends and facts that are transforming the sector as we speak. This is a must-read for anyone who covers or follows the education space and I didn’t want you to miss it. Give it a read and let me know your thoughts.

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.

College Dorm Survival Guide Pt. 1: The RA

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.

Dealing With The RA:

The Resident Assistant, or Resident Attendant (depending on your school) is essentially a babysitter for freshmen. That may sound degrading to freshmen, but it’s true if you look at the dynamics between the two. RAs aren’t changing diapers, but they are a strange pseudo authority figure/friend and there tends to be a ‘you can’t tell me what to do, you’re not my mom’ mentality for some freshmen. On the other side, RAs are trying to be friends with their residents while at the same time telling them to ‘turn the music down, it’s 4 am on a Tuesday,’ or ‘yes you have to go to class if you expect to pass.’

Many residents, especially those with authority issues, look at RAs as the enemy because they represent ‘the man.’ However this ‘us vs. them’ mentality can be the cause of a lot of tension in your dorm.

The best way to handle your RA, whether you’re a rule breaker or just want to have a pleasant year, is to become friends with him or her. Now, this won’t always be possible, and there are definitely some RAs out there who abuse their power, but putting forth your best effort to be friendly and kind with your RA will help you down the road. I’m not saying you’ll be drinking beers with your RA any time soon, but if you ever run into trouble and there’s the possibility of getting out of it, that friendship you’ve built up will be the lubricant to help you wiggle your way out of the situation. Who knows, you may get lucky and they might just look the other way for you ( it’s happened before).

The Death of International Editions and Follet Sues BookRenter

It’s not that often that I have the chance to follow legal proceedings. I don’t care much for lawyers or being sued and when I read legal documents, I sometimes get confused and annoyed by the jargon that I frustratedly walk away after wishing for a Cliffs Notes version.

For as much as I try to stay away from legalese, two legal matters have crossed my desk and caught my attention in the last week alone. The first: on Friday, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that items purchased outside of the United States and then brought in and resold do not apply to the first sale doctrine. Why does this matter? Because this is the law that many resellers have been hiding behind to import international editions of textbooks. In the past, we have covered international/overseas editions and I won’t rehash that here. What you need to know is that the Friday’s ruling paves the way for publishers to go on the offensive against any resellers of these books.

Over the past two years, publishers have been aggressive in their pursuits to remove overseas editions of textbooks from the U.S. market, and with good reason: sales of these editions cut into sales that the domestic copyright holder (the publisher) would otherwise make. Publishers have been successful in getting wholesalers to stop participating in the trade, but this new ruling could have far-reaching arms as it would embolden publishers to clamp down on marketplaces such as AbeBooks and Alibris and force them to regulate individual sellers’ listings  that violate the new law. Only time will tell how this plays out.

In other interesting news, it seems the breakup between Follett and BookRenter is not as amicable as it seemed back when the first announcement of the split was made at CAMEX . In recent legal news, it seems that while Follett has moved forward with its own solution, BookRenter doesn’t want to just give up all those relationships without a bit of a fight. Since I haven’t seen any of the legal contracts, I won’t speculate, but Follett has been known to protect itself when it comes to legal battles so I wonder of BookRenter is really ready for a fight or just trying to delay the inevitable.

Three Tips for Choosing an E-reader

I’ve talked a lot here about the pitfalls of e-readers, especially as of late with the Amazon Kindle Rental news. But I’m also a firm believer in the move to digital, and the usefulness of these (relatively) new tools–as long as you do it right. I have three big-picture tips here for narrowing down what to look for in an e-reader, and pick the right one for you.

Picking an e-reader shouldn’t be that hard, right? Wrong. With the Kindle and the Nook, and now the iPad, more and more of these profitable tablets have popped up all with different pros, cons and more. It’s become almost as hard as looking for your next computer.

First, know what you are looking for. If you have never had an e-reader before this could seem confusing, but think of it as choosing a phone or computer. Some important questions to think about: Do you want touch screen? How important is screen resolution to you? Do you want it to do more than read? Color or black and white? Battery life?

Second, always make sure you get a warranty. Remember these devices are fairly new, so there are still bugs and issues to be worked out, and you don’t want to be stuck with a faulty device and out of money. Plus, if you are using it to lighten your load of textbooks in college, it’s likely it will be dropped or get spilled on, so it’s better to be safe than sorry. These warranties can range from 30 days to two years and, of course, the longer, the better and safer your investment will be. 

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4 Concerns with Amazon Kindle Rental

With Amazon’s announcement that textbooks will now be available for rental on the Kindle, the media has become inundated with articles praising the new service. Naturally, I was skeptical (see my original post), and so we did some digging at CampusBooks. 

Turns out, sure, Amazon has fantastic prices–if you can get them. Research found that only 18% of the top 100 textbooks for back-to-school are available on Amazon’s Kindle rental service, as stated in the press release. This primary flaw is obviously a big one: Amazon’s service is a great deal, but with limited availability, is far from the game-changer the media is making it out to be. It’s a great use of hype and PR to get attention, but here are some of the holes I see in the story:

Textbook availability is scarce.

Although the ability to rent textbooks based upon days of use for Kindle is a great idea, there’s really no point to it if the necessary books aren’t integrated into the service.  With only 18% of the top 100 college textbooks on Amazon’s Kindle rental service, only the lucky few students will be able to actually rent their books for Kindle.

Books are difficult to find.

When using the Kindle app, it’s basically impossible to find books using their ISBN number. This takes away flexibility for students who don’t have access to a computer, but do have the Kindle app on their cell phone or, god forbid, on their actual Kindle. It’s incredibly tedious to even find the textbook rental store on, and students may become discouraged when they have to search the entire site for it. You can find the prices if you search via ISBN via Amazon’s master search bar at the top of the screen, but with a new service to highlight, isn’t a new search method a good idea?

Four things to consider amid the Amazon Kindle Rental hype

This week, all of the big news has been about Amazon’s announcement of Kindle Rental. Everyone from SmartMoney to MarketWatch are posting articles and press releases touting the new service, which claims to offer 80% list prices and flexible rental. BlackBook even sounds the toll, claiming the
new service “hastens the death of print.”
Really? Death? Luckily, a few smart journalists have taken pause to actually look into the new service, and I have to agree.

Combining digital and rental definitely is an innovative service, but it is not new by any means. eBooks in the college space have always been “rentals” meaning that they have a term assigned to them for how long you have access to the content.  Since the early digital projects from coursesmart and the universal digital textbook project the eBooks always had an expiring term.  Someone just got smart and started calling it a rental.

I have five points we should remember when looking at the new Amazon Rental service:

1. Its textbook options are limited.

If you’ve been following along, you know that CampusBooks released data from last semester, showing the different prices for the top 25 textbooks searched and purchased. We tried to see how Kindle’s new rental stacked up, and guess what? Only three of the top 25 books search on the site were even available on the new service.

Granted, 25 textbooks is a small sample size, but it’s still significant that a service claiming to change the college textbook game has limited textbooks available. We’re looking into a larger sample size for more insight, but right off the bat, this is a warning sign that Amazon Kindle Rental might not be as easy and helpful as they claim.

2. Does flexible rental time make sense for a four month semester?

A 30-day rental sounds great for the student that crams, but does it make sense for the average, dutiful, semester-long renter? If students were to buy their textbooks now for  the entire next semester, they’d be looking closer to 150 days. Maybe Amazon Rental will make more sense for those crammers or English students only looking at one novel at a time. For most, shiny 30-day prices up front don’t do students much good, and they need to be careful and see what the cost will actually be.

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