Tuesday, 6 May 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

Inkling Gives up on Selling Digital Textbooks to Students – Right-Sizes 25% of Staff

Posted: 06 May 2014 07:20 PM PDT

With inklingthe failure of Kno and the closure of Coursesmart, the consumer focused digital textbook market has been showing every sign of fizzling, and now Inkling is throwing in the towel. This 5-year-old digital textbook startup has fired 25% of its staff yesterday as it continues to shift its focus from selling to students to getting paid by publishers.

The news has been confirmed by Inkling CEO Matt MacInnis: Yesterday's change primarily affected people who were in jobs that supported our consumer retail business,” he told TechCrunch in an email. “It was a very difficult decision for me personally because, even though they were in roles we no longer needed, they were all fantastic colleagues.”

While the scale of the layoff comes as a shock, Inkling had been telegraphing that it was coming. Back in March MacInnis revealed that Inkling had already shifted its focus away from selling textbooks:

The majority of Inkling's revenue now comes from licencing their platform to publishers. "There was a core business model shift where we went from being about consumer retail to being about licensing software to businesses (the publishers themselves)," says McInnis.

I was expecting that the staff had been reduced gradually over the past few months, not all in one go.

Inkling got a lot of attention when they first unveiled their platform 4 years ago, a time when many (but not this blogger) assumed that there would be a huge market in selling digital textbooks to students. Inkling’s platform was the most eye-catching, and it incorporated videos, interactive demos, and extensive annotation features. But none of that mattered much, given that students (1) only buy textbooks because they are forced to do so and (2) never had much money in the first place.

P.S. Inkling giving up on selling to students raises questions about the viability of anyone still in the market, including Yuzu, the digital textbook platform which B&N will be launching this summer.

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Google Debuts Classroom, a Free Apps for Education Tool

Posted: 06 May 2014 04:54 PM PDT

google_education[1]Google took another step towards undermining the ed tech market today with the launch of Classroom.

This new, free tool in the Google Apps for Education suite is intended to make it simple and easy for educators to assign work, provide feedback to individual students and the class as a whole, and stay organized.

Teachers will be able to track students based on their class and quickly see how each is progressing:


With Classroom, educators will be able to:

  • Create and collect assignments: Classroom weaves together Google Docs, Drive and Gmail to help teachers create and collect assignments paperlessly. They can quickly see who has or hasn’t completed the work, and provide direct, real-time feedback to individual students.
  • Improve class communications: Teachers can make announcements, ask questions and comment with students in real time—improving communication inside and outside of class.
  • Stay organized: Classroom automatically creates Drive folders for each assignment and for each student. Students can easily see what's due on their Assignments page.

According to Google, Classroom is opening today for a limited preview. Teachers can ask to join the preview, which is expected to start next month. Classroom is scheduled to launch by September, when it will be available for all schools that use the Google Apps for Education suite.

I know that this tool might not sound like much, but this is the kind of tool that other ed tech companies are selling to schools for annual fees. Google, on the other hand, is simply going to give it away. It won’t even be supported by ads, and Google has also promised that they will never uses a school’s content or student data for advertising purposes.

In short, Google is working to disrupt the ed tech market just like they disrupted email, feed readers, online storage, and other tech industries.

I think that is great news.

I’ve never been happy about companies profiting off public education. They might be necessary, but big textbook publishers and big ed tech companies led to unmitigated disasters like “No Child Left Behind” , which is less a reform effort than a jobs program for the companies that sell the standardized tests to schools.

Between Chromebooks and the Google Play for Education certified Android tablets, Google and its partners are already collectively the second largest hardware vendor for 1:1 programs, and with the debut of Classroom it’s clear that Google is building the back end which is intended to dovetail in to the devices.

It would not surprise me if a couple years from now Google dominated the ed tech market as thoroughly as they dominate search engines.



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Intel Eschews Windows, Launches Education Chromebook Reference Design

Posted: 06 May 2014 11:51 AM PDT

For the past couple months Intel has been hinting at their interest in Chromebooks by promoting them on the Intel Education website, and today the chip maker removed all doubt.

Intel launched a new Education Chromebook reference design on Tuesday, and they expect the first model based on the design to launch later this year.


This is the 4th laptop reference design which Intel has offered via Intel Education, and it is the first model that did not run Windows. Few details are available as of yet, but Intel has said that, like Intel’s previous designs, the new Education Chromebook has a ruggedized shell. This laptop is powered by an Intel Bay Trail  CPU, and it features a camera which can be rotated so it either faces the student or teacher.

Intel already has one device maker lined up to use the design, CTL, which plans to be ready to ship to schools later this year.

In addition to Intel’s new reference design, several other Chromebooks were unveiled today including models from Dell, HP, and this beauty from Lenovo.lenovo-s-new-touchscreen-chromebook-with-300-degree-hinge[1]

The Lenovo N20 is a distant cousin to the Lenovo Yoga convertible laptops. It doesn’t have the 360 degree hinge found on the Yoga, but it does offer a 300 degree hinge which could prove very useful.

While Lenovo has produced a couple Chromebooks already, the N20p and its plainer, cheaper cousin, the N20, are Lenovo’s first Chromebooks aimed at the consumer market. These laptops have 11″ screens, Intel Celeron CPUs, Bluetooth, Wifi, and a 1MP camera. They will ship with up to 4GB RAM and up to 16GB of internal storage. Lenovo is promising 8 hours of battery life, but since this is Lenovo 4 hours would be a more realistic estimate.

The N20 will cost $279, and it is scheduled to be available in July. The N20p will start selling for $329 in August.

Liliputing, PCWorld

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Wolters Kluwer to Bundle Inkling eBooks With Print Titles

Posted: 06 May 2014 10:14 AM PDT

One of the Wolters Kluwer Health inklingworld’s largest technical, health, and law publishers announced on Tuesday that they are launching an ebook bundling program.

Wolters Kluwer Health is following in the footsteps of smaller publishers like O’Reilly to launch a new program which adds an ebook to many print titles. This publisher is one of the first large healthcare publishers to bundle Inkling’s enhanced ebooks with its print editions.

The publisher now offers nearly 100 titles under this new program, including such page turners as Rockwood and Green's Fractures in Adults and Children, The Anesthesiologist's Manual of Surgical Procedures, Primary Care Medicine: Office Evaluation and Management of the Adult Patient, and Synopsis of Psychiatry: Behavioral Sciences/Clinical Psychiatry.

The new bundled package gives customers both a print copy and an ebook copy for one price. The print titles can reportedly be purchased from any source (some of the Amazon listings have already been updated) and the customer will automatically receive an activation code that gives full access to the corresponding Inkling ebook.

Wolters Kluwer has in the past bundled website access with some of the titles they published, and they have also bundled CDs with selected titles, but this is the first I have heard of an ebook bundle.

Now if only Wolters Kluwer were bundling a PDF.

Yes, I know that the Inkling versions include integrated video, animations and learning assessment tools, but all I would want would be search and the option of working from my laptop. While Inkling does offer a browser-based reading app, that’s not the same thing. Furthermore, Inkling’s Android app is still in beta, and the only other apps offered by Inkling are for the iPad and iPhone. So even for my preferred platform (Android), Inkling comes in second to a PDF, which I know for sure will work.

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Flipboard Releases Beta App with New Menu Drawers, Redesigned Cover Stories

Posted: 06 May 2014 08:06 AM PDT

Flipboard flipboard-qu35zm[1]rolled out a new update today for their Android app, only you won’t be able to find it in Google Play. The new app is only available via Flipboard’s beta release channel, and it packs in several major changes.

The beta app features a new menu design that includes pop out menu drawers on both sides of the screen, with the right drawer containing the search, topics, and suggested sources while the left drawer contains the notifications/settings and the magazines you’re following.

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Here’s a list of the most important changes in the beta release:

  • Profiles for Flipboard users
  • Experimental app navigation interface on phones
  • New cover on Cover Stories feed
  • Left drawer now contains magazines you’re following and notifications/settings
  • Right drawer now contains search, topics, and suggested sources
  • Improved performance for interface for flipping into magazines
  • Fix issue causing duplicate items to sometimes show up in feeds
  • Improvements to interface for seeking help within the app
  • Fix issue with ad cropping on tablets
  • Fix some higher density layouts showing up on phones
  • Fix minor issue related to storing feeds for offline viewing
  • Other bug fixes and improvements

If you want to give the beta a shot, head on over to Google Groups and join the beta group, then opt into the test.

Android Police

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Researchers: eBooks Beat Print Books at Helping Small Kids Learn Words

Posted: 06 May 2014 06:30 AM PDT

With l_p0021019564[1]some studies showing enhanced ebooks hurt while other studies show that ebook readers help readers learn, the jury is still out on the topic of whether ebooks help or hurt reading comprehension.

Late last week a newly released study added to the debate. A team of researchers at Kyoto University’s Primate Research Institute have found that displaying a picture book on an iPad, and combining it with narration, improved small children’s ability to understand the words they are seeing.

The study, which was published in the Frontiers in Psychology, showed that the kids who read with the iPad learned to recognize more characters than kids in the control group, who were read to by their mother.

For this experiment Nobuo Masataka, a professor at Kyoto university, worked with Suzuki Publishing to create a new digital version of Tanabata Basu, a children’s book which had originally been published in 2012. The new ebook version featured professional narration which was synced with the text so that each word was highlighted as it was being read aloud.

A total of thirty 4-year-olds were studied in this experiment, divided into 2 groups. In the first group, fifteen 4-year-olds were exposed to the digital version on an iPad twice a day. The results showed that the average number of characters they correctly read increased by an average of 3.1 characters to 19.5 after six days.

The second group of 4-year-olds were exposed to the printed version of the same picture book read to them by their mother. After 6 days this group could recognize 0.3 more characters than before. Before the experiment, they could read an average of 16.6 characters, similar to the e-book group.

The experiment didn’t test whether the kids understood what they were being read, just whether they recognized the characters, so this study can’t answer any questions about reading comprehension. But it does show that the established teaching technique of connecting sounds with text might be improved with the proper ebook.

I say that it might be improved because it is not clear to me that the mothers were making the best use of this technique. But to be fair, that is not a criticism of the parent so much as it is a reinforcement of the value of this technique, whether it is used with paper books or ebooks.

If nothing else this study shows that the right type of ebook can positively impact the learning experience – a point which even the detractors of enhanced ebooks have made. In a recent study on this topic, researchers concluded that it was the enhancements like games and other distractions found in ebook apps that detracted from the learning experience.

The Asahi Shimbun

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