Boundless: Disrupting the Textbook Industry

boundlesslogotextEditor’s Note: This guest post is writter by Ariel Diaz: the founder and CEO of Boundless, a company creating low-cost, high-quality digital college textbooks from the best open sources available on the internet. You can follow him on Twitter @arieldiaz.

The traditional textbook market is broken. Though textbooks remain the core content for most courses in higher education, this market operates “cartel” style, giving students little choice in the products they use or the price they pay. Over 80% of the textbook market is controlled by the top 5 publishers, who use aggressive sales tactics to acquire professors’ business and then stick students with the exorbitant costs.

These textbook fees have risen 812% in the past 30 years—that’s more than healthcare costs, housing prices, and college tuitions, all of which have risen faster than the rate of inflation. Now, according to The College Board, students are spending an average of $1,200 a year on textbooks and course materials at public four-year colleges.

Though students have long found ways to circumvent the skyrocketing costs of textbooks—by not buying them, renting them, or even illegally downloading them—they shouldn’t have to sacrifice quality for cost.

At my company, Boundless, we realized that the sad state of the textbook industry is especially startling when you consider the wealth of Open Educational Resources (OER) that has been created over the last 20 years by leading educators and institutions. Top-tier universities, professors, and faculty have created amazing educational content and put it online for the public’s benefit, but this information has remained relatively disconnected from students—until now.

Instead of forcing students to buy $200 textbooks, digital content providers can put students back into the heart of learning. Digital learning tools don’t rely on professors assigning books or students making trips to the bookstore. Instead, these tools go directly to the students, giving them a choice in their textbook decision.

Beyond price, students care deeply about the ease and effectiveness of learning. While standing in line for coffee or waiting for the bus, students constantly check their smartphones or tablets. They could use those extra five minutes to browse mobile learning content. At Boundless, we tackle the issue of cost and digital access by working with a team of subject experts, PhDs, and Masters students to craft textbooks from the best OER content online and then provide it to students online at no or low cost.

Digital content gives education companies a chance to put the focus of learning back on the student without forcing them to drain their wallets. By meeting students on their own turf—online and on mobile devices—digital content innovators can set the stage for a comfortable learning environment, complete with affordable learning tools.

To Own or to License?

So , there are two blog posts this week that really have me thinking. One is from Andy Woodsworth over at Agnostic, Maybe and the other is from In the Library with the Lead Pipe by Brett Bonfield.  Go read them, I’ll wait here.

Ready? Great. What I’ve been thinking about is the concept of ownership and how it’s being degraded.  All of that music you got from iTunes? Not really yours. The books on your Kindle? Nope. In fact, your Kindle itself isn’t really yours. You can’t take it apart, or load some fun Linux software on it, or do anything other than what they say you can. Or at least, that’s what you said when you clicked “agree.”

Our libraries exist, in part, as a place to gain access to the information we don’t need every day, comes in a format we can’t afford, or don’t want to read ourselves but think others should have a chance to look at. Essentially, the community clubs together to buy this stuff and then loans it to anyone that wants it. But with the erosion of true ownership, we have opened the door for media companies to place limits on what we can do with all that stuff we’ve bought.

Because we haven’t bought it. We’ve paid a fee to use it for an indeterminate amount of time.

And the real owners are inconsistent with what that amount of time is because they can change the license whenever they want.

And we just click “agree” without even reading what we’re agreeing to.

Remember that day when Amazon pulled all of the copies of 1984 back in 2009? Technically, they could do that at any time, with any book. They say they won’t, but they could.

So that’s what I think about when I hear that Wal-Mart is willing to upload all your DVDs into the cloud (for a fee). It’s a brand new, exciting service that takes something you own and makes it into something you’ve licensed. Ingenius.

Emily Thompson is the host of EdReach’s show LiTTech, a show for the innovative librarian. LiTTech highlights the innovative news, gadgets, and resources for the literary educator. You can follow her on Twitter @librarianofdoom.

LiTTech Show #20: Academic Publishing

This week on LiTTech: Emily and Addie take a quick look at the way prices for academic journals have exploded over the past few years. Recently though, professors and provosts have started to make stirrings that they might shift their focus to open-access journals if the model doesn’t change.

Show Host: Emily Thompson

Show contributors: Adrienne Matteson


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MacReach Show #37: The Truth About Apple’s Digital Textbooks

This week on MacReach: Kelly Dumont shares some of the ‘overlooked’ announcements from Apple’s recent release of iBooks, iTunesU, and iBook Author. Sean Junkins joins in on our conversation: do digital textbooks belong in the classroom?

…And you’ll LOVE the App of the Week!

Show Hosts: Meg Wilson (@iPodsibiities) and Kelly Dumont (@KDumont)

Co-Host: Sean Junkins (@sjunkins)

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We’re All Products of Our Own Personal Learning Experience

We are products of our own personal learning experience. We are products of our environment. What happened to us in our past, what we were exposed to, how we felt about school growing up, all play an important role to how our current beliefs of education are perceived. I do believe perception is reality. Whether as a parent, pundit, educator, or by-standing observer, we all seem to have a strong opinion about how schools today in America should operate. Our own educational and personal experiences guide our outspoken thoughts about schools, teaching and learning.
Last week, Apple announced a revolutionary idea with the launch of iBook Author, iBook 2, and the iTunes U app. While I won’t rehash what each tool does, I do feel compelled to share some thoughts about what this announcement may mean on a broader scale.
A colleague of mine recently shared an article with me by Matt Burns, “iPads And Digital Textbooks Do Not Belong In Classrooms Yet.” Mr. Burns expresses some rather unfortunate points of view to me as an educator. Ideas such as “Make my kids do math drills on paper with a dull pencil. Digitalized learning scares me. I simply do not see the value in it.” These concepts are fraught with misguided information, personal bias, and a true lack of what needs to be happening in our classrooms.


While I also don’t need to remind anyone that our public schools are constantly dissected and branded in the national media as underachieving, and that pundits and observers alike, believe teachers in America are not doing a good job, I keep coming back to the thought that many of these individuals criticizing schools are NOT in our classrooms. These people don’t see the daily successes, the daily struggle to overcome failure, the daily effort to achieve, and the overall incredible passion of students and teachers in school districts across the country.

As an educator, I am appalled at anyone, pundit or not, who believes that attempts to improve the educational process, either through technology or otherwise, should not be researched or implemented, and that the status quo is acceptable. Do they not see the situation our country is in? Do they not realize many other countries have globally surpassed us when it comes to preparing our children for their future? If you are not in the classroom, or in an educational building, how can you be so certain what the best approach is?  If you are not in the classroom, or in an educational building, how do you know?

My answer is, you can’t be certain. And rather than dismiss innovative, creative and forward-thinking ideas, maybe take a step back and evaluate what it is you do know. And then maybe ask yourself, what should I know. And then, hold your breath for a moment; ask yourself, what should I learn.

I am a teacher in the classroom. I am also a video producer for my district, so I take advantage of all opportunities to visit the schools in our district on a regular basis. I travel the country speaking and meeting educators doing amazing things in their classrooms. I see what is happening firsthand, everyday.

But what you may not know is that I personally hated high school. That’s right. Despised it. High school was one of the worst experiences of my life. Some of my dislike towards high school came from my fractured home life. Some of my disapproval came from the school and the type of kids that attended my high school. I most definitely hated doing math with a dull pencil on a piece of paper. That was MY learning experience.

And yet here I am, a college graduate, who took part in two different business career paths following college, in my tenth year in education, advocating and screaming for educational change, innovation, and support for our current students in school. Much like the individual who is born with a health problem, who is inspired to become a doctor, I am a teacher, who has been inspired to advocate for support and positive change in our schools through technology and innovative teaching methods.

These are my opinions and only my opinions. I am filled with success upon success story, of how students excelled and facilitated their own learning through the use of technology. I believe the tools that Apple supports education with, and many other forms of technology, can create a stronger learner. And I’d be happy to bore you with these stories anytime (and sometimes I do.)

It is also my opinion and hope, that anyone who reads or believes in the words of Mr. Burns, takes a quiet step back, evaluates the world around them, and then properly forms an opinion to decide; should we support educational innovation or should we support “the way it’s always been done.”

I am not an expert on all of this new technology. I don’t have all the answers. And I am an advocate for free speech, so by all means say what you will about teachers, schools and education.

Ultimately what I know is this; it will be the passionate teachers, not the tools or technology, who will continue to help students prepare for their world. Yet, if there is available technology to leverage which would enhance the learning process and engage our kids, we would be absolutely careless to dismiss this innovation due to fear, ignorance, or old-fashioned beliefs. And while it is most important to challenge and question process, decisions, and new techniques, it is also paramount to offer constructive support to impact positive change in our public schools.

What will you do? What will you decide? What will you choose?

LiTTech #11: Looking Forward to 2012

This week on LiTTech: Emily and Adrienne talk about their professional resolutions for 2012 and what they think the biggest issues will be including ebooks, library innovation (from hackerspaces to new taxonomies to tablets), and inspiring triumphs over last year’s attitude toward school libraries). In addition, they chat about some of the books they’re really looking forward to in the coming months (hint: the second books in a couple of trilogies are coming up!).

Show Host: Emily Thompson

Show contributors: Adrienne Matteson


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LiTTech Show 001: It’s All About eBooks!

This week on LiTTech: This is our maiden voyage here with LiTTech so we welcome you to our Show #1! Our hopes are to educate and energize you about the world of school libraries technology across the grade levels and the country. A dynamic part of the changing landscape of education, LiTTech will attempt to bring you the best thought provoking ideas in the field with guest speakers and lively banter. This week we discuss Ebooks through the eBook Summit, digital reader platforms and a free deal worth investigating at MeeGenius

Show Host: Elisabeth LeBris

Show contributors: Emily Thompson,  Dan Rezac

The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.

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If you’d like to leave some feedback you can call us on our very own EdReach Comment line: That’s: (443) 93REACH.

EdReach Show #35: The Kindle Sets ‘Fire’ to the Old Library

This week on EdReach: The benefits of having social media helpers in the classroom, why education in Finland is so much better than America, the Kindle Fire helps us saying goodbye to the old library, and should teachers go back to the new-and-improved

Show Host: Daniel Rezac

Show contributors: James O’Hagan and Greg Garner

The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.


Call us on our comment line!

If you’d like to leave some feedback you can call us on our very own EdReach Comment line: That’s: (443) 93REACH.

EdReach Show #34: Do Pencils Raise Test Scores?

This week on EdReach: Picking apart, a purportedly new “Twitter” for teachers, making the case for ditching paper textbooks, and that pesky NY Times article creeps back again into another show.  This show really tried to answer the question: what happens when the fibre optic cable is fried at your school and you’re just about to record a podcast? Listen, and find out!

Show Host: Daniel Rezac

Show contributors: Judi EpckeGreg Garner, and Scott Weidig

The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.


Call us on our comment line!

If you’d like to leave some feedback you can call us on our very own EdReach Comment line: That’s: (443) 93REACH.

EdReach Show #31: Will Nanobots Save Us From NCLB?

Textbooks come to the Web in a big way (Kindle), NCLB explained for dummies, and  Arne Duncan says that states can have waivers for NCLB this year- with a catch. Make sure to listen to our One Thing to Share this Week – some great tools and apps in there (and one about nanobots). Our guests this week include Razor’s Ed host James O’Hagan and regular contributor Judi Epcke.

Show Host: Daniel Rezac

Show contributors: Judi Epcke, James O’Hagan

The complete show notes are now on the EdReach Wiki.


Call us on our comment line!

If you’d like to leave some feedback you can call us on our very own EdReach Comment line: That’s: (443) 93REACH.

The Changing Publishing Landscape: Amazon Launches Textbook Rental while Borders Liquidates

Sorry for the outrageously long title, but these both of these stories that were reported today are telling about the the impact eBooks are having on the publishing and distributing industry.

First, Amazon released information that it is launching a Kindle eTextbook Rental service. I believe that this service will greatly benefit for college students, and there are possibilities that secondary education could benefit from this as well for those schools embracing 1:1 programs with students.

Kindle Textbook Rental is a flexible and affordable way to read textbooks. You can rent for the minimum length, typically 30 days, and save up to 80% off the print list price. If you find you need your textbook longer, you can extend your rental by as little as 1 day as many times as you want and just pay for the added days.

Amazon has really put together a nice set of features for this service:

  • Rent once and read across all connected devices that have a Kindle App
  • Pay for only the time one needs the book (from 30 to 365 days)
  • Keep access to all highlights and annotations even after the rental period

College students currently spend thousands of dollars on textbooks, most of which are only used for many of which 6-18 weeks depending on the term of the course. Then most students attempt to sell those books back at a very small fraction of the price originally paid. With the rise in anytime connectivity by college students, the ability to be able to digitally rent textbooks for only that time will be amazing. I envision college students carrying around all of their Kindle digitally rented textbooks, their notes, audio recording or podcasts of lectures and important class related videos all on a 1.5lb internet connected device. Being able to access digitally searchable personal notes and annotated Kindle eTextbooks (even after the rental period) will be really helpful for spiral curricular classes. I can also envision secondary students leveraging these same features.

This could also benefit district textbook budgets either by offsetting some costs from student paid rentals, or reducing textbook adoption to only the number of students taking a specific course. Additionally, this has the possibility to reduce the number of out of date textbooks by by always being able to “rent” the latest version of books at a reduced cost opposed to outright purchases from our ever lengthening textbook cycles.

As one service launches, another dies.

Today, Borders announced the full liquidation of all of assets and holdings. Borders Bookstore was once a bright and shining star in the book world getting started as a small college town book store eventually becoming a retail giant. After failing to move quickly to the changing publishing and ebook industry, the four decade old organization will be shuttering all stores and layoff all 10,700 employees. Borders had been hoping that an auction held Monday July 18, 2011 would result in a buyer. However, as Mike Edwards, Borders Group President, related to employees that auction was unsuccessful.

For decades, our stores have been destinations within our communities – places where people have sought knowledge, entertainment, and enlightenment and connected with others who share their passion. Whether you work in our stores, distribution centers, or at the Store Support Center in Ann Arbor, each of you has played a valuable role in helping ignite the love of reading in our customers. Together, Borders and Waldenbooks associates have helped millions of people discover new books, music, and movies, and I hope you’ll take pride in the role we’ve played in our customers’ lives.

The full text from Mike Edwards, to all employees can be found here.

A sad day for print lovers. The publishing industry has been and will continue to be in turmoil until old line publishing finds a new revenue generating business model of which, the ripple effect on distributors, publishers, syndicators, and even authors will be years in shaking out. As readers, our choices and desired flexibility started this snowball rolling, and the possible avalanche that has been gaining size and speed will take us for a while as well.

How do you think the closure of Borders will impact literature discovery for students and future readers? Do you prefer the touch and feel of print or has digital dramatically increased your reading interests?

If you have thoughts and ideas about how Kindle eTexkbook Rental could benefit students, please share in the comments.

Image Credit: joeltelling from Flickr CC

Summer Development: Creating ePub eBooks for Students

Summer in the United States is almost here! Teachers and student will be basking in the glow of the sun, spending time on the beach, relaxing and resting up, AND getting a head start on preparing for the next school year. (Not to mention summer school). Even outside of summer school, summer vacation provides tremendous opportunities for learning and creating. With the tremendous explosion of eReaders (both inside and outside of schools) there is not a better time to buildout an eBook for your students.

Since the majority of teachers have their curriculum material digitally, a simple bit of massaging and editing (coupled with good planning) can created a fully interactive searchable eBook that a student can highlight, annotate, and even perform dictionary, Google, and Wikipedia searches directly from inside the eBook. Additionally, ePubs have the ability to use hyperlinks AND play embedded audio and video with within the book! What better project for the summer?!

There are many eBook formats, however, one of the most popular is the open standards ePub format used by:

Kobo eReader, Apple’s iBooks app running on iOS devices such as the iPhoneiPod Touch and iPad, Barnes and Noble NookSony ReaderBeBookBookeen Cybook Gen3 (with firmware v. 2 and up),COOL-ER, Adobe Digital EditionsLexcycle Stanza, BookGlutton, AZARDI, Aldiko and WordPlayer on Android, Freda on Windows Mobile and Windows Phone 7, and the Mozilla Firefox add-on EPUBReader. Several other reader software programs are currently implementing support for the format, such as dotReaderFBReaderMobipocket, uBook andOkular. Another software .epub reader, Lucidor, is in beta. – Wikipedia

Pros to ePub

  • Open Standard Format for electronic books
  • Reflowable content which is device agnostic, font size and orientation independent.
  • Optimized for mobile devices
  • Support for embedded video and audio
    • Audio and video need to be simply in sequence with the text.
  • When text is most important, use ePub

With the many eReaders available ePubs are a wonderful way to mobilize your curriculum for students. Back in February, Meg Wilson discussed creating ePub eBooks using Pages on her MacReach show here on EdReach. With Pages ’09, Apple built in a native export to the ePub format. While any document can be exported to become an ePub, to really become a usable eBook a very specific set of formatting must be used to allow for the automatic creation of the ePub table of contents. Once again, Apple comes to the rescue by developing an ePub Best Practices Template which users can leverage to learn all about the proper formatting for a ePub eBook.

To learn more about using the ePub format and get a better feel for how a Pages document might appear as a book in iBooks, it’s a good idea to download the “ePub Best Practices” sample document. After reading the guidelines and instructions within the document, you can use it as a template to create your own document. You can also import the styles from the sample document into a new document you create.


Pages Template

Leveraging the template in Pages makes for the easy creation of an ePub. Now for the hard work: Planning and preparing material. Earlier, I had made the statement “a simple bit of massaging and editing” can produce an eBook. This is very true. However, the better the planning, the better the results will be. Handouts, worksheets, and reading materials provide much of the fodder to mold into a book, but without the narrative that is necessary to introduce and support all of that content, the book could turn out to be nothing more than a digital collection of worksheets, handouts, and readings…

Here are a few tips to turn your ideas (and a mountain of content) into a stunning eBook for your students:

  1. Collect all of the content you want to add into the eBook in one place. this should include:
    1. Digital Handouts, worksheets, hyperlinks to resources, hyperlinks to audio and video files, audio and video files themselves, etc.
  2. Take a few minutes to organize the content into appropriate groupings.
    1. Honestly, these will change as you begin to develop your book. While it is often easy to determine how to verbally teach a specific set of content, moving said content into a book format often necessitates a different paradigm as the verbal connections between material is not there.
  3. Begin laying out the planned content into a story board format. Perhaps even write out a set of large index cards that you can stick to a wall.
    1. Using a story board format will allow for you to start with large generalities (Ideas – Theory) as Chapters, then move to topics within the ideas (sub-chapters), and then finally to content.
    2. Being able to quickly move Ideas around to Topics between ideas will help prevent a lot of cutting and pasting that could eventually cause other fighting with the TOC of formatting issues.
  4. Once you have your Chapters and sub-chapters laid out, now begin making a list of the supporting content that you have for those areas by writing that information on the appropriate note cards.
    1. Here is where the “rubber meets the road”… at this point you will begin to understand if you have too much (need to break out the content more), too little (need to find or create more), or if you need to re-group sub-chapters, or even revise chapter ideas… to improve the flow of the eBook.
    2. This stage will also allow you to begin to get a feel for the introduction and connecting or transition material you will have to write.
  5. Look to the end… Take a hard look at the last chapter. While this may seem silly, and for some content it will simply be another chapter to close the material, most authors intend to have a culmination point at the end of the book. If you look closely at this chapter, you will see if all of the material you have, staged in the way you laid it out on the story board “wall”, will lead the students to that point.
    1. Right here you may find yourself revising again to ensure that you make the point you intended.
    2. You actually may want to write the entire last chapter first. This may help with the old adage: “Tell them what you are going to tell them, Tell them, then review what you told them…”
  6. Begin pulling it all together one chapter at a time.
    1. Don’t let yourself get distracted by material that pulls you off topic.
    2. Don’t pull in more that you originally planned on the story board (unless absolutely necessary) – See above.
    3. Layout your content in the appropriate places in the sub-chapters and THEN write the introductions, transitions, and re-format the content you have to get across the desired message and learning.

Formatting Tips

  • All formats of media are available in Pages. However, because of how ePub works to re-flow the text for different screen orientations and sizes, be sure all images and video is set to be “inline” and not “floating”.
  • While shapes and text boxes can be used to build diagrams, it is best to build them and then use a program like “Skitch” to capture everything as a single image and then embed that image where appropriate in the text.
  • Save often, and test on your eReader of choice, iBooks, Good Reader, Nook, etc. as you go. This will help prevent an issue early on from causing formatting to TOC issues for everything beyond.
  • The best thing about ePubs is that you can link to them from a website, email them, provide them on a drive or file to students, even pre-load them to devices.

Final Thoughts

Take your time and be patient. The more you plan up front the easier the actual “massaging” will be. Use media rich content whenever possible. Remember these devices are (typically) connected to the internet at all times. They are media players as well as eReaders. Hyperlinks in ePub will automatically launch a web browser. Media you embedded into the ePub eBook (audio and video) will play right from inside of the eBook itself. Leverage these resources to deepen your students experience and understanding. That said, please remember to adhere to copyright when leveraging content, images, audio, and video.

Image Credits:

Wikimedia Commons – ePub

EdReach ScreenShot

Two questions that are still outstanding in my research:

  1. Embedding a YouTube video into an ePub – I have read a couple of posts about this and how iBooks DOES recognize HTML5 based content. However, I have not figured out how to make this work in Pages. Yet.
  2. Is there an easy PC-based ePub plugin or tool for Word?

Love to hear your thoughts, comments questions, or concerns in the comments section.

EdCeptional Show #7: Geeking out with Barbara Fernandes!

Today we welcome Barbara Fernandes also known as GeekSLP. Barbara is a wealth of information and has many accolades to her name. Here are just a few.

  • Speech Language Therapist
  • Creator of Smarty Ears apps (Over 20)
  • Speaks 3 languages (Spanish, English and Portuguese)
  • Originally from Brazil
  • HUGE online presence as GeekSLP
  • Travels the globe presenting on how to use technology during speech therapy sessions
We welcome Barbara to the show! Everyone was asked to share a low to mid tech tool that they have used recently.
  • Barbara: The concept of “low-tech” has been the only concept I have known for the longest time. Being from Brazil, we did not have access to all this technology I have today. Devices in Portuguese were, and still are unheard of; which requires people to be very creative when trying to give someone a form of communication. Given that, I am still a fan of using ANY low tech solution.
  • Patrick Black: daily visual schedules, communication boards for books to aide comprehension
  • Jeremy Brown: visual supports – activity schedules, Time Timers, token boards, etc.  Highlighting and Elkonin boxes for writing.
  • Deb Truskey: I enjoy using short video clips (YouTube stuff) with my students. It helps set the visual for them and I am able to work in vocabulary, sequencing, inferences and many other skills. I also like to get free educational videos & materials from : Video Placement Worldwide.
  • Anne Truger: Post-it notes or electronic stickies to help students to remember what they need to do next.
  1. FCC established a program to enable low-income individuals who are deaf-blind to access 21st Century communications services such as the Internet.
  2. Section 255 represents the most significant governmental action for people with disabilities since the passage of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”). It is one of the key provisions of the Act promoting the goal of universal access and seeks to increase the accessibility of telecommunications services and equipment to the 54 million Americans with disabilities.
  3. In Section 255, Congress set forth a broad but practical mandate: telecommunications service providers and equipment manufacturers must make their services and equipment accessible to people with disabilities, to the extent that it is readily achievable to do so.
  4. CG Docket No. 10-145 – In the Matter of Accessible Mobile Phone Options for People who are Blind, Deaf-Blind, or Have Low Vision
  5. FCC background material is available at
  6. Comments are due by May 23rd.
BlogWatch: – This is Barbara’s blog. We spent about 20 minutes exploring all of its goodies and discussing Barbara’s favorite tools.

On the Radar:
Special Considerations:
  • #spedchat – Want to discuss the future of SpEd with Michelle Ree & Dr. Nyankori? Join us at #SpEdChat, Monday May 9, 8pm EST
  • #slpchat – Next one is Saturday, May 14th 7:00 PM EST


  • Introductory level webcast on “AAC and Young Children” (20 minutes) by Drager, Light, and McNaughton may be useful for introducing AAC to Early Childhood Education staff.
  • MATN webinar on UDL (recording)
  • Recent & Upcoming Conferences:
  • CEC (#CEC11)
  • EdCamp Chicago – May 21 (FREE but only about 15 spots left!)
  • Proposals for ATIA and CTG due in 1 week – May 6 and May 5 ~ EdCeptional is submitting a proposal for a panel discussion!!


That will do it for this week’s EdCeptional Podcast. Please feel free to email us at with any comments or suggestions of ways we can continue to improve our growing podcast.

Where is YOUR classroom?

Every day, I am an active participant in an amazing classroom that is filled with engaging and unique learning opportunities. I learn all kinds of information about a variety of different topics; it all depends on what I find interesting or necessary at the moment. I have access to an incredible wealth of credible resources, and I am given as much time as I need to synthesize information and determine how to best leverage it. I have opportunities to collaborate and learn with, and from, experts all over the world. I have the chance to participate in challenge based learning projects where I work to find solutions to a variety of real world problems, and I do it with individuals in locations that I have never been to. I work hard to publish content that I feel is important to share. I am allowed to be curious, and I am encouraged to be creative. Most importantly, the classroom is always changing and morphing into an even better, more efficient and personalized classroom.

You may be wondering where this amazing classroom is, and my response is unique given the time of day: at home, the gym, my car, the gas station, a school, a picnic table, a friend’s house, my back deck, a restaurant… and that is just a few of today’s locations. With the help of my iPhone and iPad, my classroom can be completely mobile, it can go wherever I go. That means that whenever I want, I can find information, validate it, synthesize it, communicate it, and use it to solve problems collaboratively. Since my classroom is not located within the confines of four walls in a specific building, I am able to learn more simply because I have more opportunities to do so.

So… if I can recognize that my own classroom is mobile, why am I still demanding that my students come and sit in a room to learn? Isn’t it time that educators start discussing how mobile learning devices can really change the educational experience for our students?

I am certainly not saying that mobile learning is not being discussed. In fact, it is currently one of the hottest topics with educators, including myself. Educators can’t seem to stop talking about how to use mobile learning devices in the classroom. But that is part of the problem, we keep talking about using mobile devices IN the classroom. It is a bit absurd to talk about mobile learning taking place in a classroom… unless your definition of a classroom has changed. Thanks to the many types of mobile technologies available today, I can now consider a classroom to be anywhere I can learn or gain experience. I am a huge advocate for using mobile learning devices because I get to experience their educational value on a daily basis in my own mobile classroom. Technology has without a doubt changed how I learn, what I learn, how much I learn, and of course, where I learn. And I am not alone.

I recently had the opportunity to be a part of the Mobile Learning Experience conference, where it was refreshing to talk with a variety of educators who are using technology to transform students’ learning experiences. There is a definite shift happening in education right now, or a ‘disruption’ as some might say. Graham Brown-Martin set the perfect tone for the Mobile Learning Experience with his keynote about disruption, innovation, and learning. His thought-provoking discussion about how disruptive technologies like social media, video games, the Internet, and mobile devices have changed every industry but education was eye-opening for many at the conference. Educators were either inspired or enraged as they thought about how to best answer Graham’s bold question: what would the “napsterfication of learning” look like? I know that I personally left the conference feeling like these disruptive technologies are not only great tools for students, but they are essential tools for students’ future success: disruption will drive student innovation, foster creativity, and offer new learning opportunities.

As educators, we need to embrace and encourage disruption in and out of our classrooms. We need to listen to students like Dan Brown and Travis Allen speak about how institutionalized education has failed them. We need to question what it really means to be educated in a world where facts are free. We need to rethink the location of our classrooms, and recognize the impact mobile devices actually have on the roles of school buildings and educators. We need to understand that the goal is to use technology to empower students so that they will change the world for the better.

Educators need to think about how we can give students the right tools, strategies, and experiences so that they can be the best students possible in their own classrooms, wherever those classrooms may be.

ResearchEd: Findings from the e-Book Quality Rating Tool

Editor’s note: Guest author Jeremy Brueck is an educator and PhD candidate from the University of Akron, who is researching the use of e-Books and mobile devices in early literacy learning. This is part 5 of a 5 part series for called ResearchEd. You can follow him on Twitter @brueckj23.


So, is Quality Rating Tool 2 (publicly accessible at any better? We will now hone in on our data to see if we have achieved better reliability with Tool 2. The following 4 charts show the inter-rater reliability on three subscales of version 2 of the e-Book Quality Rating Tool. Ten independent raters evaluated 5 books by assigning each book a score between 1 (strongly disagree) and 5 (strongly agree) on ease of use, multimedia and interaction features. Ratings were considered reliable if they fell within +1 point of the rating assigned by the Expert Rater, the project technology expert.


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ResearchEd: An e-Book Quality Rating Tool is Born

Editor’s note: Guest author Jeremy Brueck is an educator and PhD candidate from the University of Akron, who is researching the use of e-Books and mobile devices in early literacy learning. This is part 4 of a 5 part series for called ResearchEd. You can follow him on Twitter @brueckj23.


Drawing on the professional knowledge base we used for developing the Blueprint Key and Analyatic Tools 1 & 2, we developed a matrix to guide the design of a prototype tool for evaluating the e dimension of the early childhood e-book. This matrix provided a framework for organizing the tool (categories & elements) and specified criteria for judging the electronic environment. We used the Quality Rating Tool 1 (publicly available at with a set of internal raters, consisting of 4 teachers, and also external raters, who were members of our research team.

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ResearchEd: Analytic Tools for Examining e-Book Features

Editor’s note: Guest author Jeremy Brueck is an educator and PhD candidate from the University of Akron, who is researching the use of e-Books and mobile devices in early literacy learning. This is part 3 of a 5 part series for called ResearchEd. You can follow him on Twitter @brueckj23.

From the Blueprint Key, we moved to the development of 2 unique analytic tools. Analytic Tool I was adapted from the coding categories of de Jong and Bus (2003) and focused primarily on multimedia/ interactivity design features. This tool uses the entire e-book as the unit of analysis. It is organized into four categories—Book Assistants; Multimedia Illustrations; Multimedia Print; Interactivity—that reflect the major early literacy learning domains of Book Handling, Comprehension, Word Recognition and Cognitive Processing. The four categories include 14 elements that describe ebook design (e.g., presence of static and/or animated illustrations).


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ResearchEd: e-Books, Learning Objects and the Blueprint Key

In Phase 1, our research goal was to design an effective and usable tool for early childhood teachers to us in order to rate the quality of the e-Book for use in early literacy instruction. Our interest in developing an e-Book rating tool began in 2008 with our first attempt, the Blueprint Key, and has evolved over time by blending several different analytic tools to create the most recent version, the Quality Rating Tool. Let’s take a closer look at the evolution of each component of the Quality Rating Tool.

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