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Penn State Technology Allows Faculty and Students to Build Their Own Textbooks from OER

Faculty, staff and graduate students at Penn State University cleverly came up with a way for other faculty and students to create their own online textbooks through a tool called BBookX.

Users would simply have to type in keywords related to their subject material, then BBookX will gather information from open resources regarding those keywords. Since this tool is only in its pre-release state, it currently runs on top of Wikipedia. However, once it has reached a wider release, it will support more Open Educational Resources (OER) repositories. Kyle Bowen, director of Education Technology Services in TLT, assures that “expanding future use will be a key part of our success”


The tool allows students and faculty to create textbooks chapter by chapter. Once the resources have been loaded, users can rearrange the material however they like through a click and drag interface

A huge advantage of this tool is that students will save a lot of money from textbook costs and they will be able to personalize their learning through building the textbooks themselves.

Although the primary focus of the tool is towards college students, K-12 students and faculty are able to use it as well. A public demo is not yet available, however developers are searching for “schools and organizations that would be interested in partnering and supporting future research.” There is yet to be a confirmed release date.

For more information on this topic, visit the article here.

A Peek at the Future of Digital Books?

You may remember a post on the LT blog from March that provoked the question “how do we make the e-book experience different from the experience of reading from a physical book?” According to Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis, this is what the e-book industry needs in order to survive. Who knew there would be an answer to our question so quickly!

During the same month, software developer Mike Matas of Push Pop Press demonstrated his company’s first interactive book for Apple devices, Our Choice by Al Gore. The presentation is available to watch on TED here and features Matas flipping through pages, playing videos, expanding photos and interacting with infographics all in the e-book. The quality is beautiful, and the layout is not at all like a traditional book.

To be fair, this may not be an “answer” to the question, but more of a glimpse into the possible future for e-books, and possibly even e-textbooks!

UW Grad Students Test Out the Kindle DX

Photo courtesy of Jon ‘ShakataGaNai’ Davis (Wikimedia Commons)

The University of Washington was one of seven schools who participated in pilot studies of the Kindle DX eReader in higher education. The study was carried out by UW technology researchers in order to determine how well the eReader fits into academic reading. The results weren’t outstanding, but many remain optimistic.

The study followed 39 graduate students, who were given a Kindle DX at the beginning of autumn quarter 2009. By spring quarter 2010, less than 40 percent of the students were using the device on a regular basis.

But why? “There is no eReader that supports what we found these students doing,” says Alex Thayer, a UW doctoral student, “It remains to be seen how to design one.”

Some of the challenges encountered with the Kindle include difficulty switching between reading techniques such as skimming. Some students kept paper nearby to take notes while others used a separate computer to look up references more easily.

According to Charlotte Lee, a UW Human Centered Design and Engineering professor, “E-readers are not where they need to be in order to support academic reading.” However, she predicts that e-readers will reach that point “sooner than we think.”

Read the full article by Hannah Hickey here.


McGraw-Hill and Pearson Invest in Inkling

Inkling, a popular company specializing in eBooks, announced on March 23rd a new partnership with very big names in education. On the Inkling blog, CEO Matt MacInnis* had this to say:

Today, we announced new depth to these relationships. Both McGraw-Hill and Pearson, two of the largest educational content providers in the world, have invested in Inkling, signaling a strong endorsement of our approach, our technology and, most of all, our team.

In addition to these investments, we also announced some significant content commitments, including the following:

• The top 100 undergrad titles from McGraw-Hill Higher Education.• The top medical reference titles from McGraw-Hill Professional.
• A full MBA curriculum from Pearson Education.
• Top undergraduate titles from Pearson Education.
• A full medical education curriculum from Wolters Kluwer Health.

This is quite a big step forward for Inkling, and it will be interesting to see where these partnerships take them in the near future! Will students begin to more widely accept eBooks and eReaders as reading devices, now that there are more textbook titles available?



*If you’re wondering, yes that is the same Inkling representative that was quoted in our article on eReaders a few weeks ago!

Despite Booming eReader and eBook Sales, Many Students Still Prefer Traditional Textbooks

Campus Technology reported last week that although the eReader market experienced a dramatic increase in sales during the last holiday season, the e-textbook market has yet to feel the boom.

Companies specializing in e-textbooks, such as Inkling and CourseSmart, offer a fairly wide range of textbooks for a fraction of the price most university bookstores would charge for them. The books are purchased, downloaded, and viewed directly on an eReader or computer. Cheap textbooks and easy accessibility- it seems to be a college student’s dream come true!

But in one study, 3/4 of students surveyed said they would prefer to use a traditional paper textbook, as opposed to a digital e-textbook. Students found traditional textbooks much easier to interact with, and many thought them worth the higher price. Matt MacInnis, CEO of Inkling, even seems to agree:

“A book provides a really good user experience. It doesn’t crash. It’s predictable. You know exactly what you’re going to get. Simply putting a textbook on a Kindle or a Nook is actually a worse experience. You’re working entirely within the constraints of the book, but you’re taking away the convenience and reliability of the book.”

However, MacInnis’ company, and others like it, are working on ways to better, establish and differentiate the eReading experience, rather than mock the experience of reading from a book. According to MacInnis, in order for e-textbook companies to succeed, the experience needs to be “appreciably better than using a book”. Inkling has even gone as far as calling their e-textbook “titles” in place of the term “books”. Hopefully, these proposed modifications will speed up this slow-starting industry.

This year, eReader owners are expected to spend $1 billion on eBooks alone. By 2015, the amount is expected to increase to $3 billion.

To read the full article from the Campus Technology blog, click here.