Posts Tagged ‘ ebooks ’

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.

eBook Review: iBooks Publishing

It’s time for another Textbook Guru eBook review, but as promised in my last article, this time we’re changing it up and reviewing the flip side of eBooks, publishing. Today we are taking a look at the iBooks platform from the perspective of a self publishing author. If you’d like to read up on the iBooks platform from the user end, take a quick look at our iBooks review here.

Before I get into the iBooks publishing process, I must note that there are a wealth of guides available that have more specific detail than I’ll be able to provide here. I should also mention that a large portion of these guides describe what seems to be the ‘PC’ version of epublishing. To publish in iBooks you need the ‘Mac’ version. I started down the PC route, using a third party site called Lulu to prep my article as a .epup file. This is the file format that many eReaders, including Kindle and Nook accept. iBooks prefers the proprietary .ibooks file format, which can only be created using the iBooks Author program.

So, after scrapping my .epub file, I started fresh with iBooks Author, which I found to be simpler to use than the Lulu platform, although the steps were largely the same. For starters, if your book has chapters, you must insert chapter breaks that iBooks can recognize or risk having your book rejected during the uploading process. From what I’ve read, this is a step that a lot of authors stumble on and end up getting their books rejected.

Rather than simply publishing your text like a pdf, you can also take advantage of the versatility of eBooks by adding interactive features like video, clickable links to the web and sliding photo galleries. I took advantage of an iBooks option called ‘media introduction’ which allows you to embed a video that will play before the reader gets to the cover. This is great for introducing your book with a little added context or a personal message from the author.

As soon as you have your formatted .ibooks file, you are ready to begin the publishing process. To publish to iBooks you need to create an iTunes Connect account and download iTunes Producer, Apple’s distribution software. Through iTunes Producer you can upload your book to sell or for free, and manage the back end of your book selling career with analytic tools.

When you’ve created your account and loaded iTunes Producer, you will go through a lengthy but thorough uploading process, similar to the one you went through to prep the file. You will be asked all the pertinent questions such as Author name, what categories iBooks should file your book under and an ISBN if you have one. This is also the stage in which you will actually upload your .ibooks file and your custom cover image.

iBooks is very picky and it’s likely you’re upload will have several errors to fix before it is complete. I had to go back and change information about my upload 5 times before I was able to finish the upload successfully. After uploaded your book will enter an approval process with Apple before it will actually start showing in searches within the iBooks store or on iTunes.

If everything goes smoothly, the upload process will take about an hour from word doc to .ibooks to publishing, however I did several hours of research and fighting technical problems with installing iTunes Producer). For something as simple as the free article I uploaded, the publishing process seems lengthy, but actually it’s just very thorough, which is important both to you and Apple (legally) if you intend to sell your book. Frankly, if I were publishing a book I intended to profit from, this process is extremely easy and quick compared to the traditional route of pitching to publishing companies.

However, after your ebook has been uploaded, it still needs to pass Apple’s approval process. Unfortunately my ebook file was rejected for ‘insufficient length or functionality.’ After following up with iBooks support, I was encouraged to ‘review your book concept and evaluate whether you can incorporate functionality, content, or both to enhance the user experience.” As you may have guessed, the problem for me here is that my article isn’t going to get any longer and it seems the video introduction, image sliders and live links I incorporated did not provide enough ‘functionality.’

Unsatisfied with this answer, I pressed iBooks support for more details, including what the minimum length or functionality is that I am falling short of. Unfortunately their support team was unhelpful, stating that they do not have a ‘published requirement regarding the minimum length of functionality of a book’ yet still asking me to review my book concept for length and functionality and resubmit. I had hoped that having a real human review my book would show them that my book has all the length and functionality it needs to serve it’s purpose, which is to show how easy it is to publish on iBooks.

So, rather than linking to iTunes for you all to download my free eBook, I can only offer you a PDF version of what it would have looked like in iBooks. I believe it was more the length than the functionality of my ebook that caused me trouble. Since it is not very likely that a self publishing author would bother to write a book as short as my article, I imagine other authors will have an easier time passing Apple’s approval process.

What’s Going on at Chegg?

I recently read an article Forbes ran about Chegg and I wanted to highlight a few stats I found noteworthy.

  •  Chegg’s estimated 2011 revenue of $200 million was up 38% over 2010.
  •  Chegg is still seeing 93% of their income from textbooks (new, used, ebooks, and rentals).
  •  CourseRank, which Chegg acquired in August 2010, has grown from 50,000 users to more than 400,000 users.
  •  Cramster, which Chegg acquired in December 2010, has doubled its user base.

While the textbook market is changing and new players are making waves, Chegg is positioned to withstand and grow in this new market. They’ve certainly become so much more than the leading rental company and while the Forbes piece didn’t touch upon it explicitly, it’s clear that Chegg has a very strong digital strategy with their acquisition of 3D3R and creation of HTML5 textbooks. And they’ve integrated this with their core business of rental as students can now get their textbooks free for 7 days in digital format while waiting for the rental to arrive.

What’s really important about what’s going on at Chegg is how the company continues to promote itself as the brand of choice for college students. With the reach Chegg’s amassed across the different sites they own, nobody can argue that they can deliver a brand message to the college community. It will be interesting to see how they employ this strategy over the next six months and its clear that they are looking to drive new revenue from this channel.

California Senate Takes Steps to Make eTextbooks Free and Available

ImageToday, December 13th, the California’s Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) announced new legislation to lessen college expenses for students. The bill will create a free online library of digital textbooks full of the most common lower division courses taken by college students in California.President Steinberg was joined by college students and instructors today at the state capitol building for the announcement. Students announced an online petition targeted at legislators and college professors to show support for the bill.Speakers included students from UC Davis and CSUS, Dr. Larry Green, Mathematics Co-Chair at Lake Tahoe Community College and 20 Million Minds Foundation President Dean Florez.

As the state continues to cut the financial aid available to schools and students they are seeking ways to make the cost of college more affordable.  When looking at the financial trends you can see the cost of college, and its materials have grown at a exponential rate over the past 30 years.

According to George Skelton at the Capitol Journal: In 1980, the average annual cost of undergraduate tuition and fees at the University of California was $776. Today, it’s $13,218. That’s an 18% increase over last year, which was 14% higher than the previous year, which was 23% steeper than the year before that.

Add up room, board, books and pocket change and you’re easily into 30-plus grand.

In the California State University system, average annual fees were $160 in 1980. Now they’re around $6,500, up 23% in the last year. Another hike is on tap for next September.

At community colleges, there were no academic fees before 1984. That year, a $5 per unit charge was imposed. Now it’s up to $36; figure $864 annually for a full load. Sure, that’s a bargain. But it’s still a difficult reach for a single mom working a part-time job.

Darrell Steinberg, the lawmaker introducing the bills adds that the average college textbook in 2010 cost $104, a 24% increase from five years before. Between 1986 and 2004, textbook prices rose 186%, double the inflation rate. Students can expect to spend more than $1,100 a year on books.

One of the answers, according to the new proposal law is to establish a council to select 50 courses for the program to target.  Those courses would then have material sent out to bid with the goal of free online materials or a printed version for under $20. All materials created under the program would be housed in a “California open-source digital library”  similar to the one we discussed being produced in the State of Washington.  Steinberg estimates the start up costs of this project to be around 20 million dollars but anticipates an annual savings of student of over 1 billion dollars.

The key to the success of this program and others under way is their ability to create content that is as good or better than the materials provided by the publishers and then to get the faculty to adapt them.  It is a multi step process and I agree it needs to start somewhere but a lot of parts are required to get this locomotive moving down the track. I applaud the effort and will keep an eye on its progress.

The iPad2: Changing the Education Game?


(Image courtesy of Engadget)

Yesterday, Apple (in the form of Steve Jobs himself) announced the eagerly anticipated iPad2. The new device is leagues beyond the original of a year ago and heads above the competition. Faster, more powerful, lighter, slimmer, more connectivity, heavy on multimedia tools, with a camera and loads of apps, the iPad2 is really bridging the gaps between laptop, netbook, and tablet.

And the kicker? Same price as the original iPad, which started at just $499.

In the presentation yesterday, we saw lots of pointing to the iPad2’s role in education. From the image of the intersection between Technology and Liberal Arts streets to those of the teacher using the device as a presentation tool in the classroom, the vibe was definitely that it was a viable device for education. But as for specifics, there isn’t really anything new or directly targeted toward students and the iPad2’s role for students was merely sort of vaguely implied. As well, iBookstore remains the source for books for the iPad2, but it’s not as if many academic publishers have come on board and made their textbooks for sale in that format.

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