Open Source College Textbooks Going Mainstream?

Are open source textbooks becoming more widely accepted?
One frequent headache for the average college student is dealing with textbooks. They’re expensive, used copies in decent condition can be hard to find, and textbook companies frequently come out with “new” editions that are minimally revised versions of the previous edition.
But an initiative out of Houston-based Rice University could help change that. OpenStax is on a mission to provide openly licensed college textbooks, many of which allow for open contributions from academics. After launching their first textbook in 2012, they have expanded to more than 20 different books. In August, they formed an international partnership with the UK Open Textbooks project to help make its model available to students across the world.
But providing free textbooks is only part of the organization’s mission. Another major facet involves application of technology through online tools that help students practice and deliver personalized questions to help students fill in the gaps. And the best part for financially strapped students? All of this is free or available at a nominal cost, as low as $10 per course.
Of course, there will likely be concerns over content quality; schools won’t be interested in adopting this if it puts their accreditation at risk, regardless of how cheap it may be. But given that this is based at Rice University – one of the premier schools in the nation – OpenStax seems to carry some level of credibility. Moreover, this new approach should be compatible with colleges seeking to implement active learning techniques. With the right kind of active learning furniture in place, it could be a tremendous boost for any number of colleges and universities, particularly those serving low-income communities.
So the internet, having already disrupted numerous other industries, has now trained its sights on textbook publishers. Starving students across the world are likely thrilled.
(Source: Campus Technology)

The Common Core State Standards, widespread standardized testing, and the American education industry

Standardized testing is historically a hot-button topic in the American public education system.  From the implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) in 2002 and Race to the Top in 2009, to the more recent controversy surrounding the release of the Common Core State Standards in 2010, questions abound as to whether standardized testing can provide an accurate metric for academic success, in terms of both teacher and student performance.
According to the Common Core website, the standards “provide clear and consistent learning goals to help prepare students for college, career, and life. The standards clearly demonstrate what students are expected to learn at each grade level, so that every parent and teacher can understand and support their learning.” The ultimate goal of the standards is to produce college and career readiness from a young age — beginning in the elementary years. 
But concerns remain about how exactly to prepare students for college, especially across a diverse array of school districts and student bodies. Some who oppose the Common Core cite the limiting influence of “teaching to the test,” which according to this editorial could create a standardized test meritocracy, defining students by ratings and rankings rather than their individual intellectual and creative strengths (which are not well measured by multiple choice tests). In addition, the Common Core standards were written by 27 members of the organization Student Achievement Partners. Many of these writers are involved in the pre-existing standardized testing industry and maintain interests in its economic growth. 
On the other hand, proponents of the program argue that because the standards merely indicate what students should be capable of as they progress through the grade levels. Individual curricula are still left to the discretion of their teachers and schools. As such, they claim that teaching a standardized skill set within the flexible framework of the Common Core will, on the whole, boost students’ academic performance.
SMARTdesks and the Common Core  
SMARTdesks is a firm believer the project-based learning and collaborative work allows students to grow in ways that exclusively “teaching to the test” does not offer. Standards have the capacity to enrich education, but they also must constantly adjust to account for students and their individual learning needs. Just as rows of desks are a dated classroom layout, uniform standards can curb the opportunity to foster creativity and entrepreneurship from an early age.
This Washington Post article offers a pertinent critique of the standards and their dependence on standardized testing as a measure of success, calling this method the “test-and-punish” approach as opposed to a “support-and-improve” model. Involved diagnostic entities working to improve education – such as the California Collaborative mentioned in the article – can identify strengths and weaknesses of schools in a way that the ranking inherent in standardized testing cannot. This approach emphasizes constructive feedback rather than punitive sanctions, and enables educators to better design curricula without the looming threat of losing their jobs based on their students’ standardized test scores. 
In general, how much do Americans really know about the Common Core?
A UConn poll from earlier this month showed that the more Americans know about the initiative, the less likely they will be to support it.
Some Statistics:

  • 39% of Americans have heard of the much-debated initiative in 44  states; 95% have heard of No Child Left Behind;
  • 33% believe adopting Common Core standards will increase the quality of education in their communities, 27% say it will have no effect, 30% believe it will damage education;
  • 29% believe the Common Core will increase the number of students who attend college;
  • 33% say the initiative will mean that more of those Americans who graduate college will be ready for a career;
  • 53% of liberals favor the policy, compared to 24% of conservatives who responded to the poll.

And…38% believe Common Core is a good policy, in contrast to the 44% who believe the opposite.
This reticence perhaps stems from the consequences of No Child Left Behind, which some consider a fundamentally flawed program due to its dependence on test scores. The cost has been hefty as well; pre-NCLB annual state spending on standardized tests totaled $423 million, a figure which rose to $1.1 billion in 2008, according to this Huff Post blog entry.
For the Common Core’s response to criticism click here for the program’s elucidation of “myths vs. facts” regarding its standards.
In your opinion…Do you think the Common Core will help or harm students and teachers in the long run? What does college-and-career readiness mean to you?

Top 10 Ways to Use a SQWeezel

The SQWEEZEL, a universal tablet mounting system, is revolutionary for hands-free support for many activities. In the office, on the job, or even at home, we look at the top ten ways of how to use the SQWeezel.
1.      In the Kitchen
Tablets have a wealth of space to store recipes and with easy access to the internet it provides millions of recipes at your fingertips. Clip the SQWeezel on the kitchen counter keeping it away from the mess of the food or the heat of the stove, but within sight.
SQWeezel
2.      While You Exercise
Don’t trust the SQWeezel on an unsecure magazine rack that is part of your exercise bike or treadmill. Clip the SQWeezel to the machine and start burning calories. You can read, listen to music or answer email while doing your daily workout. Just make sure you don’t clip it to a road bike; that could be dangerous!
SmartDesks SQWeezel
3.      On the Job
Whether you are in an office, lab, or working with your hands in an industrial setting, the SQWeezel can help by providing you instruction or helping you record your data.
SmartDesks SQWeezel
4.      At School
Educational technology is a leading trend in the 21st century in schools for children of all ages. Whether you are teaching a concept through visual learning, maintaining your class attendance list, or reading a story to the children, the SQWeezel is a great tool!
SQWeezel SmartDesks
5.      In a Hospital
Both doctors and patients can benefit from the SQWeezel. Medical facilities have been incorporating tablet technology through the United States over the recent years. Patients who have extended hospital stays can clip the holder to a chair or hospital bed for entertainment.
SmartDesks SQWeezel
6.      As a Store Check-Out Option
With credit card technology, restaurants and stores are beginning to adopt the tablet check-out style. Stores can outfit their check-out location with tables to clip the mount and save space and money on bulky outdated machines.
SQWeezel SmartDesks
7.      In the Car
While we don’t advise the driver to use a SQWeezel while driving, unless they want to take advantage of GPS directions on their tablet, parents can add SQWeezels to their cars for children entertainment and learning.
Children in Car
8.      By the Couch or in Bed
Get rid of the arm strain of holding a tablet to your side or above you to watch a film or read a book. Just clip the stand to your nightstand or a table near the couch and turn the screen horizontally.
Woman in Bed iPad
9.      Outside on a Nice Day
Want to enjoy the great outdoors while reading an eBook? Clip your tablet with your SQWeezel to the chair and soak up the sun!
SQWeezel SmartDesks
10.  While on an Airplane
Depending on the length of your flight, entertainment may be a necessity while you travel. By attaching the SQWeezel to the tray table in front of you, you will free up space for food or additional materials you may need out during the flight.

Airplane Tray Table  

 
 
 
 
 
Want to learn more about the SQWeezel?
Visit: http://www.smartdesks.com/ipad-holder-stand-sqweezel.asp

Textbook Economics, Part II: Digitizing Your Classroom

SMARTdesks can help you embrace the challenge of digitizing your classroom and take advantage of increasing online classroom resources. We offer a variety of products that can make the transition easy. Here’s a list of products that are essential to making the transition to digital textbooks as smooth as possible. 
1. The iPad FlipIT offers a lockable, flexible solution for classrooms looking to install iPads in their classroom desks and tables. Students can use the iPad in portrait and landscape mode in a securely enclosed and powered environment. iPad-flipIT-features
2. Mobile Whiteboards and SMARTboards are a must-have for the digital classroom. Teachers can highlight important learning material. Students can write on the mobile board to engage with their subject matter and collaborate. mobile-whiteboard-in-office-507
3. How to power all of these electronics without a mess of wires? The Floor + Furniture Integration Technology (FFIT) offers an easily reconfigurable solution for cable management. To see how it works, click here.
flexible-computer-floor
4. At the Jack Swigert Aerospace Academy’s Cyber Cafe, outfitted with Exchange collaboration tables, students are using technology on a daily basis for their research needs.

A student at Jack Swigert uses both digital and print resources for his research in the cyber cafe.
A student at Jack Swigert uses both digital and print resources for his research in the cyber cafe.

For some great insights into the pros and cons of digitizing libraries in the classroom, check out this interview with Nik Osborne, the Chief of Staff for the Vice President for Information Technology at Indiana University. According to Osborne, academic institutions have a role to play in the market for digital textbooks; it’s not just up to the student and book publisher to make classroom changes happen. For a look at how students use technology in and out of the classroom, check out these stats from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research.
The bottom line? The potential for innovation in the market is tremendous if institutions, publishers, and students to develop an interactive, lower-cost alternative to traditional print textbooks.
In your opinion…what are the advantages and disadvantages of a digital classroom?

Textbook Economics, Part I: Are Digital Libraries the Future of Learning?

At the Archbishop Stepinac High School in White Plains, NY, print textbooks are a thing of the past. For the 2013-2014, school year, the school has converted its curriculum to digital textbooks stored on an Internet cloud. So far, according to Lisa Alfasi of Pearson Education, Stepinac is the only high school in the country to abandon print textbooks entirely.
Digital textbooks are certainly a growing trend in the education sector, and not just in private educational institutions. By 2017, all North Carolina public schools will receive funding for exclusively digital textbooks. While moving to a digital library has its perks, the question remains how every single student will gain access to a computer, either provided by the school or a “bring-your-own” policy.
But after high school, according to the 2013 College Board Trends in College Pricing Report, students budgeted approximately $1,200 for textbooks and supplies for the 2013-2014 academic year. Student debt is an enormous obstacle for many recent graduates (read this excellent NY Times feature for an in-depth look at this issue), and the cost of textbooks often is not even included in tuition and fees that can near $60,000 per year for private universities alone.
In college, due to rising prices of hard-copy college textbooks, both online resources and textbook rentals are increasing in popularity. According to this USA Today article, some students avoid purchasing textbooks altogether in an effort to defray already astronomical education costs and student loans. In the future, it seems that textbook companies will have to develop cost-effective interactive and online versions of their books.

From the Government Accountability Office Report GAO-13-368, page 6.
From the Government Accountability Office Report GAO-13-368, page 6.

From this report, we can see that in the US, printed college textbook prices have risen at a rate of 82% from 2002-2012, and the Consumer Price Index (CPI) — which measures change over time in prices for bundles of consumer goods — has risen at a comparably much slower rate, 28%.
What does this mean? The cost of print textbooks is rising at a significantly faster rate than consumer goods at large. Therefore, proportionally, textbooks are becoming more expensive more quickly when compared to other goods considered in the CPI, which include eight major groups: food and beverages, housing, apparel, transportation, medical care, education and communication, and other goods and services. At the start of the 2013-2014 academic year, Bloomberg news addressed this textbook inflation as an “untenable trajectory,” according to Watson Scott Swail, president and CEO of the Educational Policy Institute.
To improve learning experiences, like at Stepinac High School, and offer a lower-cost alternative to print, publishing companies like Pearson Education are exploring options to capitalize on 3D digital technology for interactive textbooks. For example, Pearson’s Prentice Hall “United States History” digital text for iPad costs just $14.99 on Apple iBooks…
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VHNk0L2agY4
…But some would say that digital textbooks cannot replace the attractiveness of a hard copy textbook, at least in early childhood education.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBksLwCKLvk
Let’s return to the Stepinac model for a moment. With technology on the rise in classrooms, students unarguably have greater access to educational materials and resources. But what’s the solution for K-12 public schools, where funding usually does not cover procurement of technology for individual students (a problem case in point for the North Carolina plan to “go digital” by 2017)? And what about private and public universities, which generally provide neither print/digital textbooks nor computers for their students? The cost of learning remains a challenge, despite the benefits of a growing trend in digital textbooks in K-12 and university learning environments.
On a lighter note, thanks to Cagle Cartoons for this one.
Digital-Textbooks-on-the-rise

In your opinion…
Do you think digital textbooks should replace all, some, or no print media in K-12 and higher education classrooms?

 
Check back tomorrow for how SMARTdesks suggests “going digital” in the classroom!