Archive | trend feature RSS feed for this section

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

%d bloggers like this: