Make Sure You Do Your Research Before Insulting an Entire Discipline

Chegg.com definitely has a rocky history with the EduGeeks.  At least they got a Chief Executive after those questionable acts – so maybe that will turn the companies reputation around?

Or maybe not.  Read this article on new features that Chegg.com has added.  Let me draw your attention to one of the last lines – a quote from Dan Rosensweig, the current chief executive:

“Education is one of the areas where technology has not had a chance to work its magic”

Really? Thank you for insulting everyone that has been working in the Ed Tech field for the past 50-100 years. Yes, there is much more that technology can do in education that has not been tapped yet. We have a long way to go. But we have also come a long way, too. There are thousands of examples where technology has had a chance to “work its magic” on education.

I guess at least they are not as bad as the Borg, thinking that they invented all of the magic that is happening.  They just want to ignore all the magic that has already happened.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Remix Textbooks the Way You Want With Flexbooks

“Why should we have to pay for chapters we don’t use in textbooks?”  We have all had this problem with textbooks.  There only seems to be two options for instructors when it comes to choosing textbooks for class: get a large book with 20-something chapters and only use 14 or 15, or get several smaller books and mix and match the chapters together and hope your students don’t get lost.  Two costly and ultimately wasteful options.  Oh, and of course, the dream third option – writing your own book… because we all have enough free time for that, right?

But what if there was another way to get the content you want in the order you want it?

What if you could choose chapters from several textbooks, put them in the order you want them to be in… and maybe even re-write several chapters or paragraphs, or even include pages from Wikipedia in there?

And what if you could offer the book to your students at the cost of printing fees, or even as a free PDF?

Sound crazy?  Think textbook companies will never go for that?  Maybe they won’t, but one new company has been re-thinking textbooks and will do just all this and more.  CK-12 has taken online free textbooks to the next level.  Sure, they offer free textbooks as PDF downloads, like other sites.  These books were written by experts to meet national edcuational standards… just like other open-textbook organizations.

The difference here is in what you as an end-user can do with these textbooks. They call them ‘flexbooks.’  All of their flexbooks are released under a Creative Commons license that allows you to modify and add to them as you want.  These changes do not affect the book itself, but it does allow you to create your own custom version.  You can mix and match chapters from different books as you see fit, even adding or deleting content that matches what you want to teach.  You can even add any content from any website (including Wikipedia) that shares content with the same open license.

Then, you create a PDF and do what you like – take it to Kinko’s, submit it to an online “print-on-demand” service, or save it online as a free download.

For now, most of the flexbooks on Ck-12’s site are for high school, but they desire to expand into higher ed and elementary education also.

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Self Publish a Course… Magazine?

I think most people that read this site will be familiar with self-publication sites like LuLu.com.  These are great for instructors that want to produce their own book and ditch the high-priced text books.  But in the age of connectivism, content from instructors is shrinking as more teachers get on board with letting their students construct their own content.  Monster textbooks are not only looking bad for our backs, but for social learning in general (in some cases).  What is the Web2.0-enabled instructor to do?

Or what about getting your students to create a book of their own… what if they can’t get up to the minimum page limits at most self-publishing sites?

Now there is a new service from HP that lets you self-publish your own magazines called MagCloud.  Instead of publishing course textbooks – why not create a course magazine?  For around $10, you can probably included everything that a constructivism-savvy instructor needs.  Or, get your students in on the fun – have then create a magazine for a course project instead of the same old boring paper.

The interface is pretty easy to use (even though creating the PDF with the correct settings gets to be a little more difficult due to the whole ’embed fonts’ thing). You can even preview how the final project will look after trimming and everything.  All of this for 20 cents a page (minimum 24 pages).  Shipping is around $1.40 in U.S., so the minimum cost is $6.80 for a 24-page magazine.  But compare that to $100 or more for a textbook.  So, put in your syllabus, load in the basic information and instructions for the activities for your course, and off you go with a great alternative to expensive textbooks.

But…. just make sure you watch out for those pesky copyright rules… especially if you add any mark-up to the price.

The New York Times has a good summary article about the service, also:
Do-It-Yourself Magazines, Cheaply Slick

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Chegg.com Busted For Questionable Student Testimonials

We have all wondered about reading those customer-submitted testimonials online. Anyone can sign up and post, so are those for real… or are they just plants by the company? I had always given companies the benefit of the doubt – hoping that they were keeping their nose out of anything shady. It seems like my benefits may have be misplaced. We here at EGJ have busted Chegg.com for questionable student testimonials.

It all started off with a post about textbook rentals by Katrina. She wrote about several textbook rental companies that she had heard of. In less than a day we had received three testimonials by students for one particular site – Chegg.com. This is a little odd, because we don’t really target students. Or instructors for that matter. Heck, we don’t really even reach that many people that we do target: EdTech professionals (which, of course, may include instructors and possibly even some student grad assistants). So I logged in as the admin and decided to see who these students were. It turns out that Chance Jackson had registered with an email the started out with “abbey.holton“. Kind of odd – why would Abbe pretend to be a different person and gender? So I Google that name and didn’t get much at all. If this was a real student online – wouldn’t there at least be one MySpace page, or FaceBook page, or something? But one search result caught my eye:

http://www.chegg.com/index.php/SaveBig

If you scroll to the bottom, you’ll see that Abbe Holton is one of the testimonials on the site. Weird coincidence? I think not. So I checked the IP addresses on Chance, Stan Liu, and Ana Romero. They all came from the exact same IP address in Fremont, CA – just down the road from Santa Clara, CA – home of Chegg.com. Too weird. So we checked our visitor logs from FeedBurner, and there were NO hits on our site from any search engine results for “Chegg” or “textbook rentals.” However, there were 4 (now 5) hits from “http://mail.chegg.com/zimbra/mail.” All too crazy.

So, I posted all of this as a comment. The next day, surprise, surprise – we magically get one visitor from a search for “has anyone used chegg.com” and another “testimonial” that traced back to Pakistan. According to the Chegg.com website, “Currently, Chegg is only available to U.S. residents”- so that testimonial was just deleted as being suspect. Questionable student testimonials and hiring people from Pakistan to do the same? Tsk, Tsk.

The crazy thing is, we have gotten comments from companies that we have blogged about. They identified themselves as working for that company. And we dialogued with them. That is totally cool with us – if we blog about your site, feel free to plug your stuff in a comment. But don’t do crazy stuff like this. That’s just uncool.

(or at least pick a more popular blog that doesn’t have time to check up on suspect comments :) )

Matt Crosslin

Matt is currently the Learning Innovation Coordinator with the UT Arlington LINK Research Lab. His research focuses on Learning Theory, Innovation, and learner empowerment. Matt holds a Ph.D. in Learning Technologies from the University of North Texas, a Master of Education in Educational Technology from UT Brownsville, and a Bachelors of Science in Education from Baylor University. His research interests include instructional design, learning pathways, sociocultural theory, heutagogy, virtual reality, and open networked learning. He has a background in instructional design and teaching at both the secondary and university levels and has been an active blogger and conference presenter. He also enjoys networking and collaborative efforts involving faculty, students, administration, and anyone involved in the education process.

Textbook rentals anyone??

Where have I been?? Yet another edtech trend was brought to my attention today, and I had never heard of it before…

We’ve been working (read: struggling) with our campus bookstores, trying to work out a solution for our online/distance students who want to sell back their books. Sure, they could always sell them through Amazon.com or ebay, but we want our bookstores to set up some type of procedure to work with them. (How do your campus bookstores handle this, if you don’t mind my asking?)

Well today, out of the blue, my director sent me an email that didn’t really offer a solution, but it does offer a definite alternative. Textbook rentals — much in the spirit of Netflix and movie rentals — allow students to rent textbooks for a month/semester/year (depending on the service you choose) with the understanding that you will return the textbook in “good” condition. Different services have different pricing schemes. Below is a quick look at a couple of textbook rental sites that are out there.

Chegg.com

Claims to be #1 in textbook rentals. You pay per book for a semester, quarter, or summer. You do have the ability to extend your rental for an additional cost for an extra 15 days, 30 days, semester, or quarter. They’ll even plant a tree for every book you rent, buy, or sell with them. Here’s an example of what you might save:

Biology with MasteringBiology
ISBN: 0321543254
Amazon.com price (new): $137.75
Chegg.com price (per semester): $66.79

Skoobit

Campus Technology did a story on them today, so I wanted to include them in my post, but sadly several of their pages (including the signup page) are throwing errors.

According to CT’s story, Skoobit offers several plans to choose from. The special 45-day summer rental plan allows a student to rent books at $24.99 each. Or students can opt for what they anticipate to be the most popular plan – $10.99 per book per month for four months. Not bad … if only their site would work.

BookRenter.com

Listed in a recent Wall Street Journal article, BookRenter.com allows students to rent books for 15, 30, 60, 90 (~1 quarter), or 125 (~1 semester) days, with the option to purchase it new. Going back to our previous example:

Biology with MasteringBiology
ISBN: 0321543254
Amazon.com price (new): $137.75
BookRenter.com price (125 days): $63.75

So you can definitely save quite a chunk of change using these websites. Oh how I wish these had been available when I was getting my undergrad degree. That being said, even grad students (who tend to hold onto their textbooks to keep as references) would be interested in these sites. Several offer the option to purchase the books new, and with our example above, BookRenter.com’s purchase price ($142.94) is close to even Amazon.com’s (current) lowest used price ($123.89).

Anyway, as a result of all this, we’re planning on letting our students know about this. My question for you all is — had you heard of this before? Have you heard from any students who have used these sites? What did they think?

Katrina Adams

Howdy folks! I’m an Instructional Designer at UT Dallas. I have a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education from Angelo State University and a Master’s in Computer Education and Cognitive Systems from the University of North Texas. I’ve been working in edtech for 11 years. Hmm… what else? I’m a *huge* fan of that little Irish band called U2, and I’m a bigtime Firefly/Serenity advocate.