Friday, 22 August 2014

The Digital Reader

The Digital Reader

With OpenStax, e-Textbook Reads You

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 12:09 PM PDT

openstaxFor the past several years the non-profit OpenStax has been helping college students save money by producing and promoting open source textbook alternatives, and now they’re turning their attention to AP textbooks.

OpenStax recently announced the launch of a pioneering education project to develop new digital textbooks for high school students. Funded by a $9 million grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF), the project hopes to develop free, digital textbooks capable of delivering personalized lessons.

Whether it’s autocorrect learning what words you use most, Netflix learning which movies to suggest, or Google identifying which ads you’re respond to, I’m sure we’re all familiar with technology that figures out what we might want or need next.

14348900635_3f5bd5eea8[1]OpenStax wants to use similar tech to craft textbooks which adapt to serve the needs of individual students. “The technology is already here, in the sense that most of us use it online every day,” said Daniel Williamson, OpenStax managing director. “However, the full potential of this technology has yet to be realized for education. The project will allow us to demonstrate that this technology is effective and can be used in the classroom to improve both students' and teachers' return on effort.”

The new textbooks will track each student’s work and pinpoint areas where the student needs more assistance

That work is now being used to train machine-learning algorithms that give OpenStax’s biology and physics textbooks the ability to adapt to individuals. If a reader seems to be struggling with a particular topic – acceleration, say – the book will slot in additional explanations and practice questions, and increase emphasis on related subjects, such as centripetal force, that could otherwise trip that person up.

The adaptive textbooks also incorporate a learning method called retrieval practice, in which material that students have already learned pops up again in occasional quizzes. This method has been shown to enhance students’ ability to retain material, and the algorithmic textbooks will be able to decide when to ask questions based on past exercises.

This is going to be at least a two year project, with the goal of creating proof-of-concept, fully personalized textbooks for high school AP biology and physics classes. Luckily OpenStax won’t be starting from scratch; instead they plan to work from 2 existing OpenStax College titles — Concepts of Biology and College Physics.

“The same sort of algorithms that might predict which songs or books you'll like can be used to deliver a personalized experience to every child in a classroom,” said OpenStax Founder Richard Baraniuk, Rice University’s Victor E. Cameron Professor of Engineering.

OpenStax is best known for the CC-licensed college textbooks it has published over the years. Using philanthropic grants, OpenStax has published eleven freshman textbooks (with 3 more on the way) that can be bought as print textbooks for around $34 each. The digital textbooks can be downloaded as PDF or Epub, and a handful of titles are also available in iBooks as interactive textbooks.

That print price is far cheaper than the typical bio 101, chem 101, etc textbook, which often reach a retail price of $200 or more, and the ebook price is simply incomparable. OpenStax reports that their first seven books have already saved students more than $13 million.

Rice University, New Scientist

image by francisco_osorio


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Infographic: The Dutch eBook Market, by the Numbers

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 08:50 AM PDT

11715055995_328291b95c_c[1]I recently reported that ebooks made up an estimated 6% of the Dutch book market, but what does that really mean?

A new infographic from CB Logistics (formerly Centraal Boekhuis) tells us that Dutch-language ebook sales continue to rise, and have just hit 5 million copies sold (cumulatively since 2010). 

CB Logistics is the main distributor for Dutch-language books in the Netherlands and Belgium, and count Kobo,, and Google Play Books among their customers. According to their records ebooks accounted for 4.7% of book sales over the past 12 months. eBooks also accounted for 26% of the books sold online, suggesting that somewhere around 83% (ish) of the book sales tracked by CB Logistics happen offline. That’s a far smaller number than in the US market.

Do you know what else differs from the US market? DRM. Virtually all of the ebooks distributed by CB Logistics come with minimal DRM. Only 2% of the 33,244 titles in the catalog are encumbered by Adobe DE DRM, while 96% use digital watermarks and 2% use no DRM of any kind.

So where is Amazon in all this? Well, they have been rumored to be sniffing around this market for some time now – years, in fact – but all we know for sure at the moment is that they are looking to hire a translator to localize the Kindle apps for Dutch.



image  by archer10 (Dennis)


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Woot Has the Nexus 7 (2013) Tablet for $129 Today – Editor’s Choice

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 06:55 AM PDT

Nexus_7_(2013)[1] has the 2013 Nexus 7 on sale today for $129. This is a refurbished model, so that’s not exactly a great sale price, but at the moment this tablet does offer the biggest bang for your buck.

Every so often I am asked to post recommendations for the best budget tablet value. I don’t post those recommendations often enough, so when news of this sale crossed my desk today I knew I had to share. The Nexus 7 (2013) sports a high resolution screen, a fast CPU, two good cameras, and it is running a recently updated version of Android.


The Nexus 7 (2013) runs Android 4.4 KitKat on a quad-core 1.5GHz Snapdragon S4 CPU with 2GB RAM and 16GB internal storage (but no card slot). It sports a 7″ display with a screen resolution of 1,920 x 1,200, much sharper than on the Galaxy Tab 4 Nook. It has a pair of cameras (5MP/1.2MP), Wifi, Bluetooth, NFC, and GPS.

While this is a refurb, I for one am not worried. I have not read about any serious issues, so there is no reason to be concerned. (I am interested in what the prevalence of this tablet as a refurb says about the tablet market in the US, but that is another matter.)

All in all that makes it a great value for $129, and if I were in the market for a tablet I would be buying one. In fact, I can safely say that this is the tablet you should buy instead of the recently launched Galaxy Tab 4 Nook.

And if you should happen to miss this sale, don’t worry; the $129 price is more or less the retail price for this refurb model, and it will be showing up again. (The market is glutted with refurbs, horray.)



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Prestigio MultiReader 5364 Now Shipping – 6″ E-ink Screen, Android 4.0, 113 Euros

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 06:10 AM PDT

Here’s an Android-based ebook reader which launched in April but only just crossed my desk today. The MultiReader 5364 from Prestigio isn’t going to win any awards, but it does offer another option for Android on E-ink.


The 5364 sports a 6″ E-ink screen with a screen resolution of 800 x 600, far lower than that of leading ebook readers. It runs Android 4.0 on a 1GHz Allwinner chip with 256MB RAM and 4GB internal storage. Like most ereaders, it has a touchscreen, but I don’t see any mention of a frontlight.

On the plus side, it does boast audio support, and it has speaker.s It also has a g-sensor, a microSD card slot, and a microphone. And Prestigio is honest about the battery life, telling us that the 1.5Ah battery is good for about two weeks run time.

In terms of software, the 5364 ships with a number of Android apps, but I don’t see any mention of Google Play. The listing does say that it ships with a web browser, clock, calculator, a music player, email client, a note-taking app, and several games.

I myself haven’t had a chance to put my hands on one, but I did find the demo video. It’s narrated in Ukrainian, but it is still better than nothing.

The MultiReader 5364 is available direct from Prestigio. It costs 113 euros, which is a little pricy compared to the cost of the Kindle Paperwhite in Europe (109 euros). It’s also price compared to the Illumina HD from Icarus, which at 119 euros is the better buy (based on looking at the specs).

I won’t be buying one; Prestigio will ship anywhere in Europe but the US is not listed as a shipping option, alas.

If you get one, let me know what you think.

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Feedly’s New Slider View Makes it Easier to Read Your News Feeds

Posted: 22 Aug 2014 04:33 AM PDT

feedlyThe reigning champ of news readers rolled out a new update today for their web interface. They say that it will make it easier for readers to stay on top of their feeds while reading a story.

What they’re launching today is a new reading mode called slider, and it is an optional alternative way to display articles from the feeds you follow. Rather than have the article appear in a window in the list of read and unread articles, you can now have the article pop out of the right side of the screen  in a slider which looks like this:

feedly slider

The new reading mode is optional under the title and magazine viewing modes, but it is built in to the card viewing mode.  You can turn it on or disable from the preferences menu.

Have you used it yet?

I’ve played with it for a few minutes, and it’s growing on me. It looks very different from the service I’m using now, but I can see the value of Feedly’s new design.

By placing the article in its own window, Feedly has made it easier for me to jump back from reading the article to sorting my feeds. I can see the list of articles at all times, so when I finish reading an article I will immediately know my location in the list and can continue to browse the list without concern that I might miss something.

It’s a subtle change but a surprisingly useful one.


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The Morning Coffee – 22 August 2014

Posted: 21 Aug 2014 08:21 PM PDT

The reading list Friday morning covers a diverse range of topics, including a commentary on HuffPost’s project to crowdfund a reporter, an update on a southeast Asian ebook startup, the futility of trying to reverse engineer the Facebook news feed algorithms, and more.

  • E-Commerce Is Not Eating Retail – Darrell Rigby (Harvard Business Review)
  • How Ookbee built a mini ebook empire (Tech in Asia)
  • Utah college students prefer traditional textbooks to e-books, bookstore officials say (Deseret News)
  • The Weird Near Future of News (The Awl)
  • Why fathoming Facebook's feed is a rigged game (Wordyard)
  • Why it's smart of the HuffPo to partner with Beacon Reader in crowdfunding a reporter (GigaOm)
  • Who Can Effectively Challenge Amazon in the Book Business? [Smart Set] (Jane Friedman)

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