Archive for the ‘ Resources ’ Category

eBook Review – Chegg – The Update

The last time I checked in on the eTextbook platform at Chegg, it was February of this year; what a difference six months has made! While the original system was impressive, the changes are even more so and they are going to help set Chegg apart in the digital arena. Here’s what’s up:

iPhone Reader: Taking advantage of the retina display on iPhone, the new-and-improved Chegg app now has a direct tie to the eTextbook platform. This experience is fully optimized and provides a crisp-and-clean interface that is easy to navigate and easy on the eyes. Want to take it for a spin? The app has a sample eTextbook, so try it for yourself. Let me know what you think.

Notepad: In the first review, I mentioned the notes feature, but the new notepad is a totally revised experience. Clip a quote, grab a picture, or insert a Wikipedia definition into your note page and start a digital record of the notes and parts of the book you find most interesting. This is particularly helpful when going back to study for a test.

Homework Help: The old system had a Q&A component. The new system has deep integration with the Homework Help social interaction that Chegg is really promoting this fall.

Highlights: When I buy a used book, I typically look at the highlighting from the previous owner to see if s/he did a good job calling out useful content. The new highlight feature in Chegg tech allows you to see passages of the book that have been highlighted by other users. I thought this was a great use of digital content, kind of like getting the wisdom of all others who have used the same text.

While You Wait: While this isn’t a feature of the digital book itself, it is a nice feature of the larger process. Now when you order your textbook rental, if you are worried the book will not arrive by the first day of class, you can pay $0.99 to get a digital copy of the book for seven days while you wait for the print copy.

Chegg is setting the bar high for eTextbooks. As I have mentioned in past posts, Chegg needs a digital strategy to ensure its future now that it has serious competition from many rental companies trying to emulate what Chegg started a few years ago. You can tell by recent updates that the folks at Chegg get it, that they understand that they cannot rest upon their rental laurels and that they must continually innovate and that such innovation must come in the form of an interactive digital hub that is mobile friendly.

eBook Review – Kno – Adds More Features

As the 2012 back-to-school season picks up speed, so do the updates to eBooks and eBook platforms. Tech providers know that now is the time when students decide if they will make the leap to eBooks, and if so, which device and platform they will choose. That said, Kno recently released a set of updates to its eBook platform. To keep everyone up to speed, here are links to my previous coverage of Kno’s development:

Kno – eBook Review
Kno – eBook Review Follow Up

And now for the new updates:

Collaboration Tools: Now, through the use of social media, students and teachers can share highlights, notes, and more within the content of their books. The system is designed so that teachers can create within the document and then share it with students outside of the classroom. Additionally, students can share with whomever they choose, whether it be a classmate or anyone else using the same eTextbook.

Expanded Platform: The Kno Android app, which is available for free download, will now be preloaded on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 device. In addition, Kno announced that the app will also be available for previously excluded Windows 7 mobile devices.

Advanced Search: Search now includes all notes, textbooks, and PFDs, thus powerfully including and indexing must-find information and making it easily available.

eBook Review: Flatworld Knowledge MIYO

Today is a very special edition of our eBook review series. Today we get to take a look at the unique publishing tools offered by Flatworld Knowledge. If you missed our review of the student side of Flatworld, you can check it out here.

As I mentioned in the student side review, all Flatworld Knowledge books are under a creative commons license as opposed to an all rights reserved license that most publisher use. For students this may not mean much but for educators it makes all the difference. Essential this ‘open license’ allows teachers to pick up a standard textbook for their course and customize it to fit their needs.

Flatworld calls this feature MIYO (pronounced Meeyo) which stands for Make It Your Own. When a teacher chooses to use Flatworld, they first sign up with an educator account and then find a book for their course. While not every course will have an appropriate textbook, Flatworld boasts a diverse catalog that covers many of the general credit courses most liberal arts college students are required to take.

After locating the appropriate book, teachers can choose to ‘Adopt This Book’ which puts it into the ‘Your Adoptions’ menu. Adopting a book prompts the teacher to enter a variety of data about their course which allows students to easily find their professors specific book later.

The next step is where MIYO comes in. From the ‘My Adoptions’ menu, teachers can pull up their book in a view almost identical to the student view except they have a variety of editing options. Editing is simple and easy and works a lot like editing a word document. Professors can easily delete any chapter or subsection that isn’t relevant with a single click.

Adding chapters or sections is just as easy, even if writing them is not. Professors can use this feature for anything from simply copy/pasting their lecture notes for each chapter in as a sub section, or they can add an entire chapter to cover something the book leaves out.

Maybe adding an entire chapter is  a bit much, but you’d like to adjust the existing chapters. In the editing view, professors can pull up any section as if to read it, then double click the text to begin editing at the sentence level. Say a professor has been teaching an economics course for a few years and has noticed students have a very hard time with a certain concept. Rather than add a new section, they can simply insert their own additional explanation into the text as supplemental material.

After making adjustments to the text, publishing it takes just a couple clicks and it is ready to be viewed by students. A custom link to your text is provided after making an update which can easily be emailed out to a class list. Even making changes mid semester is easy, and students will see the new material instantly in their online versions.

Of course the best part for students and educators is that the online version of ANY book on Flatworld Knowledge is completely free to read. With basically no barrier to entry, Flatworld Knowledge has changed the game for students and faculty alike. Greater customization and versatility for teachers and free books for students make so much sense it’s hard to believe this platform isn’t the norm already, but it will take time to wrestle a foothold in the industry away from traditional textbook publishers that have had a hold on the market for decades.

Free Textbooks – Crowd funding Your Next Idea

Crowd funding is a term in our new social-media-based society and we should become more comfortable with it and the larger tech-lexicon. Similar to “viral” of a few years back, I am hearing “crowdsourcing” more and more. The concept is basic, but it’s pretty cool and far reaching in its implications. In a nutshell: a person has an idea (such as creating a free textbook), that creator registers and posts the idea on a crowdsourcing funding website such as The post describes the textbook project, why the creator is qualified to proceed, and the vision for the funds and execution. People who believe in the project and contribute money are called “backers” and the project only gets the green light if the target funding is met (or exceeded). The fun part is that the creator can market his or her Kickstarter project and page and even add incentives for various levels of support (think NPR or PBS pledge drive but with stuff cooler than a mug or totebag).

Well, that is just what Brendan Myers, a philosophy professor at Heritage College in Quebec, did. Prof. Myers realized that many of his students would show up to class without the required textbook. After asking them why they didn’t have the book, he was often told that they just couldn’t afford it. To help students in his own classes, Myers decided to write his own textbook (Clear and Present Thinking) and he digitized and emailed PDF copies to his students.

The problem in education — no, one of the problems in education — is that just writing a book isn’t enough to get it widespread use across other campuses. It takes money and time and peer reviews and publisher interest, lots of all. That said, Myers’ text was limited to his classes at his university. At this point he used Kickstarter to develop a campaign to raise the money necessary to create a professional version of his book that could be more widely applicable and distributed.

The original goal of the campaign was to raise $5,000. The campaign recently closed raising $16,872 and funded by 707 backers. Five backers each gave more than $250 while 11 each gave between $100 and $249. Pretty amazing if you ask me and unheard of a couple of semesters ago.

With the extra money, Myers will be creating a French-language edition and audiobook edition of the textbook. With any extra money over $15,000, he will be creating a series of dramatic readings from the works of Plato as the works are core curriculum in philosophy courses across the world. Now that’s a project I can get behind.

Why pay again, for information you’ve already paid for?

Currently, government funded research can be very costly to access. Sometimes thousands of dollars a year for access to a single journal. Should the public have to pay for this information that our tax dollars have funded? Should universities have to pay millions of dollars a year to access this information?

A growing number of people don’t think so.

The folks at started a petition on the petition website to support making this taxpayer funded information freely available. If they reach 25,000 signatures before June 19, 2012, then the petition will be placed in the Executive Office of the President for integration into policy. They now have more than 25,000 signatures. They would like to have many many more to have more clout.

It seems like this issue would be a no brainer. However, a small group of publishers currently make very significant profits from this information. Elsevier, Springer and Wiley – own the majority of the world’s more than 20,000 academic journals and account for about 42% of all journal articles published.

This is an issue that is both local and global. In England, it’s recently become a hot issue. The latest wave started with a frustrated blogpost by an English mathematician, Tim Gowers. He touched a nerve, and some researchers and scientists are now refusing to do peer reviews or do editorial reviews for the companies that are profiting from this.

The web, and digital media, now allow for information to freely flow like never before.

Stephen Curry, a structural biologist at Imperial College London, says that scientists need to establish a new structure with publishers that reflects the changes that have occurred because of the web. He says, “for a long time, we’ve been taken for a ride and it’s got ridiculous”. Curry has decided to stop reviewing for Elsevier and has quit as an academic editor on an Elsevier journal.

The issue is not only about cost. Currently, publishers have control over how most of this information gets distributed. Change, however, is in the wind. is an established site where one can freely post and access research and information. In the world of physics, most research appears here, before it goes on to scientific journals.
David Prosser, executive director of Research Libraries UK, said, “To be made effective, scholarly information has to be made as widely available as possible. We’ve seen an increasing amount of evidence that shows that, if we move to an open-access world, there are benefits not just to the scientific process itself but also wider economic benefits.”*

*Quotes and reference taken from

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.

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.

Free Textbooks for All

Over the past few years, we’ve seen a lot of websites and organizations positioning themselves as student allies dedicated to bringing low-cost or free textbooks. Many of these dot-orgs and dot-coms are relying on open-source content as an equally useful alternative to proprietary and copyrighted materials like textbooks (Correction – Open Source conent are copyrighted martials, they are just published with the intent to be shared more freely). In theory, it makes a ton of sense. After all, the basic concepts of biology, sociology and physics haven’t changed and the base content is centuries old in some cases. However, the publishers have an edge over this open content in the form of PEER REVIEW. Peer review is where members of the academic community come together to review an author’s finds and deem it suitable (or not) for use in an academic setting. It’s a seal of approval, a stamp that the content is accurate and valuable. Without peer review and that endorsement, academic content is nothing more than words on a page.

This brings us to OpenStax College, which announced earlier this month and recently again at the Connexions Conference that they will be releasing free of charge a series of five books that have been developed and peer reviewed by educators (including two Nobel laureates). OpenStax College is an initiative of Rice University and is supported by donations from organization such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and 20 Million Minds, and the group plans to offer more than 20 titles.

The first five books are College Physics, Intro to Sociology, Biology, Concepts of Biology, and Anatomy and Physiology. Once published, they will be free to download and view via the Web, PDF or EPUB. Given the nature of open-source content, faculty is a big part of the development process as they are encouraged to post corrections, suggest examples, or volunteer as editors.

As with a lot of the open-source content now being shared, it will take a bit of time for these books to work their way into the adoption process, but as they do, it is clear that a peer-reviewed book will have a leg up in credibility and thus in getting more widespread adoption and classroom use.

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.

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