Monday, March 1, 2010

Innovation Corner: More on Digital Textbooks, Connexions & DynamicBooks

As a follow-up to the eBook and digital textbook postings earlier (see, I heard from at least one assistant professor who wrote: “Thank you for reporting on ebooks. I was just telling [a book] rep today that unless they can lower their price and or provide a better digital learning option, I will be changing books and I already use Flat World Knowledge in one class with great success and will probably replace the [rep’s]book with Flat World. I love Flat World Knowledge and so do my students….”

Tracy Newman, JCCC Ed Tech Center Sr. Analyst also responded to the eBook report stating “Flat World Knowledge (where you can remix textbooks)… reminds me of a project I worked on for KU Med before I started working at JCCC. I worked for a professor in the field of photobiology, which is a difficult field to find textbooks for. He started what he called the Digital Photobiology Compendium (DPC). He offered stipends to various professors to write articles about their field of knowledge. We then organized the articles into a grid where professors could easily create an account, log in, and choose/assemble a “textbook” by picking and choosing which modules and in what order they wanted to use them. Students would then log in and have access to the modules their instructors chose – essentially a custom, online textbook!”

“There was a paper written in 2003 about it:

“It looks like they have discontinued the part of the project that allowed students and instructors to log in and create/use the custom textbooks, but the articles are still online and freely available.”

A similar resource is available and offered for all college and university faculty through Rice University. It’s called Connexions (see Connexions is self-described as “a place to view and share educational material made of small knowledge chunks called modules that can be organized as courses, books, reports, etc. Anyone may view or contribute: [including] authors [can] create and collaborate, instructors [can] rapidly build and share custom collections [and] learners [can] find and explore content.”

You can learn more about Connexions by listening to Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk, one of the founding faculty members. In this TED (Technology, Education, Design) Conference presentation, he explains the vision behind Connexions, his open-source, online education system; see

Macmillians DynamicBooks
Of course textbook publishers are not standing by idling waiting for open source textbook repositories to grab their business. Macmillian Publishers has announced a system, called DynamicBooks, that “lets any professor make a customized version of one of the company's existing titles. That means that chemistry professors can take one of the company's chemistry textbooks, rewrite some parts, add their own papers or chapters, or embed videos or homework questions they've created. Any passage added or changed is clearly labeled as not part of the original book, so students know what is original and what is customized—a concession that was made to textbook authors.”

DynamicBooks also includes an incentive system where “Professors who customize a textbook have a chance to make some extra money. For each customized copy that a student buys, the professor who contributed the material gets a dollar. That could add up if a professor's retooled book becomes popular and is assigned by professors at other colleges.” For more information check out

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