Archive | March, 2011

eTextbooks – Alternative Educational Resources

14 Mar
Alternative Education Resources

Smarthistory, Khan Academy, MIT OpenCoursware, Edmodo, Moodle, Flatworld

Aspects of Alternative Educational Resources

Instead of spending money on expensive – and often inadequate –  etextbooks, can educators use collections of web-based educational resources in their place?

No Textbooks

Why abandon the textbook?

If K-12 educators want to provide high-quality digital content for their students, many etexbooks do not meet the mark. As covered in previous posts, most ereaders are not capable of mimicking the experience of reading a printed textbook. While many publishers and software developers are creating apps that allow for enhanced etextbook-reading, the offerings are slim, focusing primarily on a more academic audience.

Open vs. Pay

For many, the issue comes down to cost. Textbooks are expensive, and if the knowledge can be found in other places, is it worth the money? At the same time, reliable information is essential. The payoffs between open resources and vetted, published material need to be weighed by educators considering using alternate educational resources.

CK12 Flexbook

CK12 Flexbook

Online Textbooks

Educators are starting to use vetted online resources to create course-specific textbooks. There are sites that allow teachers to collaborate on the creation of textbooks in a wiki-format, and others that allow teachers to create their own ebooks from existing chapters of standards-based material.

  • CK12 Flexbook – open content, web-based collaborative model of customizable, standards-aligned K-12 textbooks. Available online, or for Kindle or iPad.
  • Flatworld Knowledge – Remixable, open-licensed textbooks created by expert educators, available free online and affordable offline.
  • Wikijunior – A collection of wiki-based, age-appropriate non-fiction books for children until age 12.
  • Wikibooks – Wiki-developed textbooks available free of charge under Creative Commons.


Smarthistory website

Online Courseware

Can’t find a textbook to suit your needs? Instead, turn to online and app-based courseware. A variety of universities, academic groups and publishers are offering platforms to search and access educational resources. Students can use these resources, including instructional videos, virtual flashcards, quizzes and interactive 3D models, to learn more about their subjects.

  • MIT Open Courseware – Contains free syllabi, lectures, experiments, video and audio clips and assignments for hundreds of courses. Be sure to click on High School Highlights.
  • Connexions -An online community where you can view and share educational material. Designed to be used by both students and teachers
  • Cengage Brain – This textbook provider offers a variety of purchasing & format options. They have begun making apps to enhance the textbook experience, with free study tools such as quizzes, flashcards and crossword puzzles.
  • TCI – This site offers a subscription service for social sciences instruction, including lesson plans, programs and resources.
  • Smarthistory – is an open, virtual art history textbook that uses multimedia to deliver unscripted conversations between art historians.

Schoolology - Social-based LMS

Learning Management Systems (LMS)

Learning Management Systems are great resources that teachers can use to organize and collect online resources, such as embedded videos, documents and links. Thought of another way, they could be used as a virtual textbook, created specifically by the teacher to meet educational needs.

  • Moodle – With this open source LMS, teachers can create their own course pages to add links, downloads and resources. Many schools have implemented Moodle as their primary LMS, including the National Cathedral School.
  • Blackboard – This commercial LMS has a large market share, with a variety of features.
  • Edmodo – This free and secure site combines the features of an LMS and a social networking site. It is a school learning system in the guise of Facebook, designed upon a format that already has student buy-in. Teachers can create their own accounts easily and share them with students.
  • Schoolology – Like Edmodo, this site combines the features of an LMS and a social networking site. It is a school learning system in the guise of Facebook, designed upon a format that already has student buy-in.
  • Livebinders – This free and secure site lets teachers create their own accounts and collect resources in one location for their students.
Espresso Book Machine

Espresso Book Machine

Alternative Publishing Models

New publishing models have the potential to impact the textbook market, possibly making it easier for educators to rely on preferred textbooks, but in more affordable ways.

Print on demand – New technology, such as the Espresso book machine instantaneously print books at the push of a button. The machine is marketed towards private booksellers for now, but is interesting to consider when planning for the future. It may be easier to print only portions of text for those students who prefer printed materials, or cannot afford a tablet device.

Selective content purchasing – Many vendors already allow students to purchase individual chapters. In the future, will vendors allow their chapter content to be included in other open textbook sites through licensing agreements?

Articles and Resources


etextbooks – Enhanced eBooks with Tablets

10 Mar
Enhanced Apps and Readers

Inkling, the Kno, The Elements App

Tablet devices have the potential to change the way we think of a textbook. The handheld, touch-screen interfaces found in the iPad and Motorola Xoom could be used as a unique way to interact with content, moving from the idea of a static textbook to one that is customized & personalized, adaptive & mashable, interactive & participative, as well as living & connected (Bjerede).


For digital textbooks, students demand more features than are currently available on the Amazon Kindle

Why Enhanced eBooks?

Schools that have tried to adopt simple ereader devices such as the Kindle into the classroom have not had great results (Graham). For one, Kindles cannot adequately approximate the ease of adding marginalia and highlights to a printed textbook.

At the very least, enhanced ebooks bring back this lost functionality by effectively mimicking the experience of reading a printed textbook in a digital form. They can allow for easy note-taking, highlighting and marginalia.

More than this, enhanced ebooks must introduce new features specific to the digital realm. Students are used to a web-based, interactive environment, and are increasingly beginning to yearn for these elements in their textbooks. Students want to be able to manipulate text and embedded multimedia, share and comment upon sections with classmates, and reorganize content to meet their needs.

Sample Enhanced eBook Apps

Since the iPad has hit the market, several publishers and content providers have developed unique apps that introduce many enhanced textbook features.

Inkling iPad app

Inkling iPad app

Inkling iPad App

This iPad-based app includes many great features from embedded multimedia, linked chapter contents, functional note-taking and highlighting features and more. The library of enhanced ebooks is not large at this point.

Course Smart App

Course Smart App

CourseSmart App

This company creates browser-based etextbooks and resources, as well as downloadable apps with enhanced features. This company also allows students to choose which version of textbook to purchase, whether online or through a mobile app.

iPad with Elements

The Elements eBook App for iPad

The Elements (ebook App)

This ebook app is available directly from the iTunes store, and represents another way to access ebook content. Instead of being available as a book to purchase through Inkling or Coursesmart, this ebook stands on its own. Pulling mashed-up data from Wolfram Alpha, this ebook exemplifies interactivity and user experience.

Kno Tablet

The two-screens of the Kno Tablet

Kno (education tablet)

This device is a tablet specifically designed for use in education, although rumors exist that the Kno will only be available as an app for existing tablet devices. Since the tablet market has gotten so competitive, designing hardware specific to only the educational market may not be the best way to go. It’s too bad, because the dual-screened device hinted at a seamless experience between textbook content, note-taking and course management apps.

Final Thoughts

Enhanced ebooks are in their infancy, particularly as designed for tablet devices. Because enhanced ebooks are so much more than just digitized text, the process of coding this content will be complicated, requiring significant investments on the part of both textbook publishers and consumers. It may take time for this dynamic content to be available for K-12 institutions. (Academic universities are the current primary target for etextbook content.)

In the meantime, educators can familiarize themselves with the content that is currently available by talking with textbook providers and requesting more dynamic content.

Or if they can’t wait, educators might consider getting all the functionality of enhanced etextbooks by turning towards open educational resources online, the subject of the next post.

Articles and Resources

eTextbooks: Trend Overview

8 Mar

The Elements App, Amazon Kindle, Kno Tablet, Smarthistory website

Even though ebooks are becoming a regular part of our daily lives, educators have struggled to implement them at the academic level. But soon that will all change. According to the Horizon Report, the time to adoption for ebooks in education is one year or less.

Why etextbooks?

Digital text, especially when accessed online, greatly influences how we access and process information. Students no longer want static text, but rather information that is:

interactive, customizable, mashable, social, easy to share, and easy to annotate

with multimedia features including

embedded video & multimedia, 3D models, collaborative notes and comments, quizzes to gage understanding.

Textbooks are expensive and heavy, and many educators hope the etextbooks will provide cheaper and healthier solutions for their students.

Common features of ebooks and ereaders


Amazon's Kindle

Before looking at etextbooks, it’s helpful to address some common features of ebooks and ereaders.

While there are many different ebook formats, most of them are only designed to replicate the experience of simple pleasure reading. The popular Amazon Kindle let you define words, search the text, and even highlight and take notes, but most students do not prefer to use them for textbook content.

In fact, according to the Book Industry Study Group:

Nearly 75% of students … said they prefer printed texts, citing a fondness for print’s look and feel, as well as its permanence and ability to be resold.

The reason students don’t like ebooks is likely because the software and readers available for e-reading are not suited to the nature of textbook-reading. While basic ereaders are ideal for lite reading, they are not currently suited for the complex layouts of educational content found in textbooks.

In order to meet student concerns, many dynamic educators are rethinking the textbook by either moving towards more enhanced etextbooks, or replacing the textbook with increasingly reliable educational content available online.

Coursesmart App

Coursesmart app on the iPad

Enhanced etextbooks

More and more “enhanced” etextbooks are coming on the market. They have more dynamic features, including robust note-taking tools, embedded multimedia, and more.

Because of the market shift towards tablets such as the iPad and Xoom, we may be seeing more and more captivating educational content. The unique interactive functionality of tablets are ideal to enhanced book apps.

Many educators argue that as etextbooks are adopted more in the classroom, even more features will be demanded by students.

From the Horizon Report:

As the electronic book moves further from a digital reproduction of a printed piece, some writers are seeing it become something far richer, allowing journeys through worlds real and imagined, undertaken not alone but in company with other readers.

Enhanced ebooks will have greater customization & personalization including the ability to choose from various vocabulary settings.

They will be adaptive & mashable with content that can be continuously updated by publishers and rearranged for greater understanding by students.

They will be interactive & participative allowing students to share group comments, interact with virtual experts and take quizzes.

They will be living & connected with website-like interactive features and robust social networking tools.

(Source: “Forget the Future: Here’s the Textbook I Want Now.” David Wees. 21st Century Educator.)

Enhanced etextbooks are complicated to create, particularly if they will be accessible on every device, from a laptop to a smartphone, which is something students prefer. They may be expensive, and currently publishers seem to be primarily focusing on the collegiate market, not on the K-12.

Open/Online Educational Resources

ck12 Flexbook

CK12 Flexbook

If K-12 educators want to use more interactive, personalized, adaptive and connected content in their classroom, they may need to replace or supplement their textbook with open educational resources available online.

Open educational resources can take the form of shared, customizable online textbooks (see CK12 Flexbook or Flatworld Knowledge) or online courseware (see MIT Open Courseware or Connexions).

Teachers can collect these resources and then make them available to students on a Learning Management System (LMS) (for traditions LMS see Moodle or Blackboard; for a more social LMS see Schoolology or Edmodo).

Open or online resources can be made available to students through alternative publishing methods, such as chapter-based purchasing, or the more theoretical concept of selective printing of copyrighted material for use in mashed-up textbooks.


For more information on the trend of etextbooks, take a look at this Prezi presentation, created for the annual conference of the DC/MD area independent school bookstore managers on March 2, 2011:

21st Century Textbooks: Implications for Independent Schools


6 Mar

information overloadphoto © 2008 SparkCBC | more info (via: Wylio)


As an educational technology specialist, it’s essential to keep up to date with current trends and articles. Each day I have to spend a good deal of time reseaching new technology and best practices of classroom tech integration.

But in my constant information gathering, I’ve become like many of my students, failing to follow through with the most important part of the process, evaluating and assessing my research. It’s one thing to share links with colleagues and save important articles in an ever-expanding “References” folder in my Evernote, but I want to do more with my information.


With this blog, I hope to provide an outlet for all the information I gather, focusing on ways to effectively implement new edtech sites, resources, and trends into the classroom. Instead of just being another source for new technologies and web resources, I hope to provide synthesis, analysis and effective guides for implementation.


I’m going to start by focusing once a month on a specific edtech trend, devoting posts onto the various aspects of the trend, helpful resources, and most importantly, plans for implementation based on best practices. As the months progress, I may provide updates to previously addressed trends, or scrap the whole format altogether.

About Me

I consider myself a librarian first and a technology specialist second. I’m no luddite, and have the tendency to be drawn to shiny new things when it comes to technology, but I’m adamant that technology should only be used in the classroom to meet specific learning objectives. In my various roles in schools, I try to serve as a conduit between teachers and innovative technologies, seeing where new websites would meet their specific needs.

Characteristically, I’m a lurker, although I hope to change that with this blog by finally contributing to the greater conversation. I also hope to lead by example, not just talking about how great the social web is, but actually engaging with it in a meaningful way.

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