This blog is dedicated to the topics of Course materials, Innovation, and Technology in Education. it is intended as an information source for the college store industry, or anyone interested in how course materials are changing. Suggestions for discussion topics or news stories are welcome.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

If the bookstore doesn't have it, the students don't need it.

Great job by Val Ross of Arizona State University on a recent morning TV show interview! There is no better way to say it. Check out the video online at AZFamily. Remember: if the bookstore doesn't have it, students don't need it.

There is another great college store interview, of Todd Summers from San Diego State, that appeared on MSNBC. That video is also available online.

I will be out of the office for the holiday weekend until next Tuesday. I hope fall rush is going well for all of the stores.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

University System of Ohio and CourseSmart

There have been a few items in the press this week about a new arrangement between the University System of Ohio (USO) and CourseSmart (CS). Here are links to a few of the stories and press releases:

Apparently the timetable for this announcement was pushed up a bit after leaks to the media resulted in some of the above pieces. So what does this mean for stores? Well, it is a little complicated. In addition to the above articles we have been talking to some of the different parties involved to understand the arrangement and its implications. Here are some of the pieces of information:

  • As discussed with USO and CS earlier this year, there is opportunity and capability for stores to handle the transaction. CS is willing to negotiate a few points with stores to cover transaction costs (such as credit card interchange fees). Stores can set their own price for the materials sold through their store. USO itself will not receive revenue from the textbooks sold.
  • OhioLINK can authenticate, by IP address, where a student is coming from (i.e., which campus). Thus, stores that choose to participate will have transactions from those campuses routed through their store. For example, a student from University "X" would be recognized by their IP address, and would be presented an option to buy the digital version of the textbook from their college store with no option to buy it from USO directly or elsewhere. Students from that institution would then pay the price set by that college store or university. This arrangement is necessary due to legal contractual obligations present on some campuses.
  • This arrangement applies to all colleges and universities in the state of Ohio that belong to OhioLINK (which I understand is pretty much all institutions except for a handful of smaller schools).

For stores and institutions (public and private), this takes some control away from what are normally local decisions around content, format, price, and vendor selection. It also presumes that faculty and students will choose cost over options that best fit their pedagogical or learning styles. As the recent PIRG study notes, digital does not necessarily mean reduced cost for students either, particularly when printing and other total cost of ownership factors are added up. Stores do have an opportunity to participate and maintain ownership of the transaction -- allowing them to continue as the key authentication source for course content on a campus. By maintaining the transaction at the store level it allows students to pay for content in forms other than credit card, such as cash, finiancial aid, or campus-based accounts (where permitted). However, it also makes store margins visible, potentially resulting in negative press even if those margins are set at only a cost-recovery level. For the off-campus stores, (aka private stores), it is not clear whether or not they will have an option to participate in this model under the same terms.

This arrangement has implications beyond Ohio. Other states might choose to pursue similar models for gaining access to digital course materials. The implications of a state entity selecting a vendor and terms for both public and private institutions is troublesome. While the motive of reducing costs of textbooks to students is laudable, digital is not necessarily the solution at this time. It is important to offer choice, and convenience. And stores should be offering students digital options. If we do not, someone else will and on terms where we may have little input or control relative to the vendor or margins. At the same time, institutions will need to understand that providing students with lower cost textbook options may result in lower revenues from the college store. That in turn means fewer resources coming in to support student activities or other campus functions to which college store revenue contributes.

Another important aspect of this change is how quickly it occured. In a matter of months this went from a discussion of possiblities, to a completed arrangement that affects nearly 200 institutions of higher education, and an even a greater number of college stores if we add private, off-campus stores to the accounting. That is a significant change in short order. Stores that have held off considering digital because they see it as years away might want to rethink that position.

Of course, all of this concern may be moot, as many students will likely be unaware of the option to buy digital, and of those who are aware, only a fraction will choose to purchase course materials in a digital format even at the lower up-front price. Perhaps it is just another signal that digital options are maturing and that stores must take steps to control their role or involvement in the future of course materials, or risk having future decisions made for them. Like paperbacks and used books before them, electronic textbooks, as an option for students, look like they are now here to stay.

Update on Flat World Knowledge

I am on the PR list for Flat World Knowledge (FWK), so I get to hear some of what is happening in their space. The company recently announced 17 new author titles under contract. FWK also begins beta-testing this week in live classrooms on 20 campuses, so expect to hear more news later this fall if the initial pilots are successful.

Among the sample titles in the first pilot are:
  • Launch! Advertising and Promotion in Real Time - by Michael Solomon,Lisa Duke & Nizan
  • Exploring Business - by Karen Collins
  • Principles of Microeconomics - by Libby Rittenberg & Timothy Tregarthen
  • Fundamentals of Income Tax Theory and Practice - by Dieter Kiefer
FWK has an interesting business model, and was recently sited by the recent PIRG study as being a good example of how to do digital content delivery in a way that reduces costs for students. FWK does offer the full textbook for free in digital format. If students want the content in another format (e.g., print) then there is a charge. There is also cost for ancillaries, such as assessment tools or other elements.

The quality of the books should be comparable to first editions of other leading textbooks, given the authors involved and FWK's usage of some traditional editing and reviewing processes. That is something many other open access or open content approaches are missing.

It will be interesting to see how the beta-tests go. There has been a fair amount of media attention, and so there will be a little more pressure for a positive outcome. It will be particularly interesting to see if the business model is, in fact, sustainable.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

e-textbook sales

This week's Inside Higher Ed had an article on e-textbooks. The piece starts with more speculation about an Amazon Kindle into the higher ed textbook market, then moves onto some new developments, and then turns to remaining obstacles. The thrust of the article appears to be that some change is beginning to occur, but we are not quite there yet.

A couple quotes of interest (with commentary):

Quote 1: Last year, according to the Association of American Publishers, e-textbooks sold by major publishers in the United States added up to $241 million out of about $3.5 billion in sales by major publishers.

Let's see, some simple division would say then that e-texbooks made up about 6.89% of sales by major publishers last year. That is still a good-sized number for a market that is new or "non-existant." Of course, I think those numbers are not "real e-textbooks" but sales and revenue from any digital course materials. Anyone from AAP reading who can clarify the accounting behind the numbers?
Quote 2: University System of Ohio is planning to offer incentives to professors who significantly reduce textbook costs for their students, including grants — five, to the tune of $50,000 each — to instructors who help create free materials for the state’s most commonly taught courses.

An interesting proposal. I think to work though there must be quality control mechanisms in place to ensure that the resulting textbooks are of comparable quality to other options. That means editing and peer-reviewing should be part of the process. I believe open source textbooks are not a bad idea, but we must be mindful of the old adage, "you get what you pay for." In the quest to reduce costs we do not want to sacrifice educational quality. $50k to develop the content for a course is really not a great amount of money when you consider all of the work and research that has go into it beyond just the writing. I know I sound like a spokesperson for the AAP on that point, but having been a faculty member, and having reviewed multiple textbooks under development during that time, I have some appreciation for what is available. If the resulting product is not good, faculty will not adopt the content -- even if it is free. The intention is well-placed, but effective execution could be difficult.
Quote 3: Esposito said publishers have been eager to jump into the e-textbook market in hopes of shutting out the used-book market — which some estimate makes up to a third of textbook sales — once and for all.

Digital is just another option, like paperbacks were once another option. Paperbacks did not eliminate the hardback business as some people originally anticipated. Digital may not eliminate used either. Right now, based on the limited data I have seen or heard on this point, students still go for the used book option first, and then digital becomes the second choice, with new falling to third. I do not have enough hard data to suggest that is fact, but the anecdotal explanations I have heard for this make sense. This only seems to be true though when the students understand what they are getting with the digital option.
Quote 4: Meanwhile, start-ups are jumping in to test competing business models.

Guilty as charged. The piece references open source, but there are other examples. The new NACS initiative in this area proposes yet another model. Business models are holding us back as much as other barriers pointed to in the last section of the article. Some of the comments to the article point to frustration with the "convenience" argument. The same comments might be made of the "cost" argument. We are still at the fluid stage of innovation, where business models proliferate. There are signs that a smaller set of dominant designs are beginning to emerge, around which we will see greater progress and adoption as the market becomes more streamlined and simplified for consumers. The technically best solution may or may not be the winning solution in the marketplace. College stores still have a value proposition to offer in this environment -- to both consumers (faculty/students/staff) and suppliers (publishers and other content generators).
Quote 5: We believe firmly that the most significant gating factor in prior eras of this has been that there hasn’t been a critical mass of inventory available on a single platform. So that student that wanted to try it had to wonder ... ‘Is it going to be on a platform that’s compatible? Do I have to have multiple books on [different] platforms?’” Devine said.

I would have to agree that this has been a significant barrier. There may be a greater barrier though -- the role of the faculty and their influence over what students adopt. I had somemone share a piece of data they collected recently with me that suggested that students who preferred one format (e.g., digital or print) would buy the format they preferred less if their faculty member was using the less-preferred format. They noted that if the faculty member even joked positively about students selecting the alternative format, the students willingness to acquire the alternative format dropped substantively and significantly. The conclusion one might draw from this is that students will buy content in the format their faculty member uses because they believe it will affect their grade. Cost and convenience are not the only factors in textbook adoption, just like the technology is not the only barrier in moving to digital.

And finally,
Quote 6: And even if e-textbooks catch on, he warned that there is no reason to suppose that they would completely take over the higher education market. “People don’t get into foolish false dichotomies. It’s not either-or, it’s supplemental,” he said.

This ties back to the earlier point about paperback books. The content is digital. It is new and will initially be resisted. It will not replace the old, just be another choice. Like taking a car, or a train, or an airplane to travel. (I would throw in horse-and-buggy, but perhaps some technologies do not quite survive a transition after a period of time).

All-in-all, an interesting article. Worth a read.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Lots happening...

As I predicted last week, there are a lot of articles in the back-to-school period talking about what is going on with digital and textbooks. At least a couple significant news pieces appear amidst the set released so far this week. Apparently there will be another news release later today about the new arrrangement between CourseSmart and OhioLINK. I have only sketchy details of that arrangement right now, but will post more information and a link to the release as it becomes available.

There also continues to be speculation about the new Kindle for textbooks. A piece appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education this week. Even the Washington Post had an opinion piece on the subject. Most of the speculation appears to have been stirred up by the recent piece in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. Many stores have inquired about being able to offer the Kindle in the store, but Amazon has not partnered with retail outlets for distribution before, so working out such a model will take time, and there are guarantees both sides would want to protect their brands and positions. Such an arrangement might not be an impossibility, though. College stores do bring some unique value propositions to the table that Amazon should find of use. More on that topic is likely to follow in the months ahead.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Interest in E-Textbooks at the College Level Accelerates

A new study out reports that interest in e-textbooks and multimedia tools is starting to grow. Simba Information in a press release yesterday noted that while new textbook sales continue to grow, used textbook sales are expected to begin leveling out -- particularly because e-textbook options are starting to take hold among students and faculty. The release notes:
Multimedia materials have the greatest potential to change the perception of instructional materials in the college market, to change the concept of a textbook and to change how content is used in college courses.
The article does have some interesting statistics that some might find interesting.

Aside from this article I have heard a few other stats over the past several months. That the conversion rate from print to digital for e-textbooks has now hit the 2-3% mark (same rate we saw in music during the first year of iTunes). I heard a similar iTunes-like comparison for the Kindle and e-books in general recently. Students are generally a tech-saavy bunch, and more so every day. Because student populations turn over rather quickly (about every 4-5 years), it is not inconceivable to see digital go from almost nothing, to something substantive, in just a few years time. Does that mean all print will go away? No. The used market is likely to slim down a bit as competition for printed used gets more intense. New delivery models will likely decrease the amount of print editions available, or might generate more customized local editions with little market value beyond a particular faculty member or institution. If the "Kindle for Textbooks" comes out next year, and if that results in a faster shift to digital among students, will college stores and other content providers be ready for the shift? What will it take for stores to demonstrate they are capable and credible sources for course materials in a digital context?

Yesterday's press release is just one more indicator that a shift is coming. It is like being on a roller coaster, headinng for that first big drop. The top of the hill is coming, but we can not quite see the size of the drop on the other side. The moment of anticipation, where you hang briefly at the top seeing what is ahead before racing down the first hill is just a few clicks of the pull chain away. Better double check the safety bar and seat belts!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

e-textbooks in the news

I was combing through some news stories this morning on eTextbooks. CafeScribe and CourseSmart still appear to be getting the bulk of the press, with some references to VitalSource as well. With the start of the semester approaching and the invariable mass of news stories about the high cost of textbooks it will be interesting to see how much e-textbooks appear among the headlines this year. I don't think e-textbooks are quite there yet, but they certainly are getting closer.

Anyway, here are a couple sample news stories on this topic that appeared recently. The first one, to my surprise, actually quoted an earlier posting in this blog:

Technology Turns the Page for Ink-on-Paper Textbooks. An interesting piece in this story appeared near the end in a section explaining why one student was opposed to digital textbooks -- because the classroom had poor WiFi connectivity, leading few students to bring laptops to class. I have heard a couple similar comments in other contexts, but this was the first news piece that I recall mentioning something about classroom preparedness for laptops.

Free digital texts begin to challenge costly college textbooks in California. This piece reflects another trend in the e-textbook media: open source textbooks -- digital textbooks made available for free. Given the emotional charge on this topic, I thought this article from the LA Times did a good job providing coverage of the topic with a fairly realistic and balanced perspective. The article cites appropriate figures that put some reality around where e-book, let alone open source e-books, currently sit in the textbook market, while still providing evidence for how there are early signs of a change or shift. I liked the listing about 2/3rds of the way through the piece of the many different open source initiatives, some of which have been around for quite some time. Actually, there is an response piece to this article in another blog that provides a perhaps less balanced, but still interesting perspective.

Textbook Torrents Makes Long Awaited Comeback. Finally, in the third strong of stories we see illegal free. Textbook Torrents is apparently back in action after only a month, and will be taking steps to increase user privacy (like no longer tracking IP addresses), and improve redundancy to ensure availability.

Certainly there will be other e-textbook related stories, but I expect the storylines within the above three articles may be often repeated. Another theme around e-book readers may be in there too, but I am preparing a separate post on that topic.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


We are seeking your input. As part of our new LLC and plans for upcoming pilots, we are looking to develop regional POD (print-on-demand) capabilities. We recently formed a taskforce to assist with evaluating some of our options and choices in this area. That group is in the process of scheduling its first meeting (around the upcoming RUSH period that comes with each new semester). I thought it would be useful to extend a few questions out to the larger world on this topic.

We plan to begin piloting POD services early in 2009. If you are a store, or a customer of a bookstore (faculty, student or other stakeholder), or perhaps a publisher providing content to stores, what would you want to see in terms of POD services or capabilities at the college store level? We have some different options for implementing regional POD, but are there scalable models for implementing POD that you have been thinking about? If you already use POD, what criteria did you use to pick your solution or approach? If there is other information you think the taskforce might find useful as they develop an RFP and evaluate options, please let me know. You can post your comments here, or send me e-mail directly. This is an opportunity to provide input into our process at the earliest of stages (even before we have our first official taskforce meeting), and thus an opportunity to make a difference.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Forces affecting higher education -- update...

Yes, as I noted in the prior posting, this is the 2006 map and a new one is under development for 2009. If you sign up for the updates they tell you that:
In 2006, we released the Map of Future Forces Affecting Education. The broad theme of that map was the impact on learning of new forms of participation. It spurred many discussions, presentations, and connections for you. In January, we are releasing a new forecast map that reflects evolving trends in the world of education. Participation has advanced to such a level that the focus of the 2009 Map is on remaking learning to meet the needs of local and global communities.

If you sign up for the updates, they will give you "sneak peeks" into some of the elements that will be on the new map in 2009.

Forces affecting higher education

Rich Hershman in our DC office shared with me yesterday a link to the Knowledgeworks Foundation Map of Future Forces Affecting Higher Education. It is an interesting tool, and one that stores could use in their own strategic planning/visioning process. I easily identified several items on the map of high relevance to college stores.

The map is interactive through the above link, allowing you to drill down, etc. However, if you register you can download a .pdf version that is a little easier to work with. The interactive version does allow you to drill down to links that the .pdf does not however, so there is a tradeoff. Downloading does provide some limited license for reproduction to use as a discussion tool.

The .pdf also comes with some useful suggestions about how to use the tool as a strategic discussion catalyst. The goal of the map is to serve as a "conversation catalyst." For stores looking for ways to start discussions with other campus departments, such as the library, IT, faculty, registrar, or others, this tool could help. The makers of the map suggest three steps to work through discussion, but certainly other approaches could work too. Their approach suggests "Foresight to Insight to Action" as follows:
Foresight: Using a marker or sticky notes, identify spots on the map that resonate with you as you think about your role in education or the issues that matter to you most. These may be specific trends on the map or combinations of trends. Why do these trends resonate with you? What questions do they raise about the future of education? (or the future of the college store?)

Insight: For each highlighted spot, imagine the implications for stakeholdres, providers, and beneficiaries of public (or private) education. What is the deeper meaning of this trend for education or your organization? These insights may form the basis of a strategy for your organization or group.

Action: For each insight, develop a list of possible strategic actions, including new research, partnerships, competencies to develop, communication plans, and programs.

I also thought the tool could be useful for scenario planning -- coming up with "what if" scenarios for the college store that could be used to develop similar action plans. If you are looking for a good tool to start the strategic thinking and discussion process in your store -- or with others on campus, this is one to consider. I think they may be providing an updated version of the map in 2009, but the current one (developed in 2006) is still very relevant.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Innovate! Online

If you missed the Innovate! 2008 conference live in Minneapolis earlier this summer, you have another opportunity to see and hear some of what took place. Participants will also have opportunities to interact and network with their peers around the content.

NACS developed the Innovate 2008 Conference to help college stores explore their environment, promote their role in the marketplace, and create new models for doing business. Via the Internet, the Innovate 2008 Online Conference, Oct. 20-23, makes the Innovate 2008 in-person learning experiences accessible to those unable to attend the live event.

To register or for more information, go to www.nacs.org/public/events/innovateonline/.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

IPod (or at least iPhone/ITouch) strike back...

Yesterday I had a posting asking if the Kindle is the new ipod. Not to be outdone -- or perhaps to be fair on my part -- an article in Publisher's Weekly not long ago noted that since Apple allowed 3rd party apps, over 130,000 users have downloaded Fictionwise's ereader app for the device. I read another piece in the past few days (although could not find it this morning) where the writer was saying that the iPhone/iTouch was the perfect column width for reading news.

I don't know. Here is my personal opinion. I own an iTouch, and I enjoy using it for many different things, but the screen is just too small for some applications to be comfortable. Short-term reading, fine. Longer term reading, not quite. However, perhaps the rumors are true that Apple is working on more of a reader-sized device employing many of the iPhone/iTouch technologies. If it has better battery life than the smaller devices, that could indeed be a competitor for the Kindle. We will continue to wait and see.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Kindle is the new ipod???

Not a week seems to go by without more news on the Kindle. With so many Kindle blogs out there, I am trying to make sure this does not become yet another. However, as it relates to this blog, there was one article in particular that caught my eye this week -- a blog posting by Andrea James of the Seattlepi.com. She quotes some interesting numbers that have been publicized lately...

  • The Kindle could sell 380,000 units in 2008, more than double what was originally predicted by analysts.
  • In the first year, that is exactly how many iPods were sold.
  • Revenue projections for the Kindle were increased from US$750M to US$1B by 2010

An article in TIME magazine from about a month ago reported another interesting statistic. Jeff Bezos reported in May that the Kindle e-book sales counted for 6% of sales for those titles available in a Kindle format. The TIME piece however notes that according to a source at Amazon, the number is actually double that. The quote:

According to a source at Amazon, "on a title-by-title basis, of the 130,000 titles available on Kindle and in physical form, Kindle sales now make up over 12% of sales for those titles."

The TIME article provides some speculation as to why the number shot up so quickly. However, with new models due out this fall and next year, and other potential projects in the offing, one thing is probably sure: the Kindle is the name to beat in the e-reader business. As an example of this point, in another recent article from the Financial Times John Gapper notes that SONY has lost the e-book battle, in large part due to a lack of wireless capability in the device. I own one of the first Sony readers, and travel with it regularly. Today I received an ad from Sony asking me to upgrade my device for $100 off the 505. The 505 model has some improvements, but it is still not wireless. If Sony makes it wireless and then builds in an application so that I can download all of my e-mail distributed news lists and RSS feeds to read while traveling -- then I will GLADLY pay for the upgrade. Gapper's article goes on to draw interesting contrasts between the Sony Reader and the Amazon Kindle from a competitive perspective. The article is an interesting read.

Friday, August 15, 2008

New Videos from e-textbook vendors...

It is almost back-to-school time and there are a range of videos on e-books out there from different suppliers. I will admit, some are truly horrible -- one (as a colleague of mine pointed out) could be an ad as to why NOT buy the e-book. There are some more creative videos out there though. Here are a series from CourseSmart:

Print v Digital 1
Print v Digital 2
Print v Digital 3

and another series with great humor from VitalSource, posted back in January:

The Lecture Part 2 The Lecture Part 2

Back in May, I posted some great YouTube videos from the University of Missouri Bookstore. They have some new ones in the series that I did not see before, and if you enjoyed the last ones, you will like these too.

I don't hate the bookstore -- the date
I don't hate the bookstore -- flashback
I don't hate the bookstore -- ham sandwich

Here's another that has been around for a while -- from North of the Border:

Used Textbooks

Plus a final one from Divine Comedy -- not one bookstores may like, but hey, we have to learn to laugh at ourselves once in a while.

The Book Buyback

Anyone have some other favorite videos to share related to e-books? Have a great weekend!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

More on technology in K-12, and open source content

As a follow-up to yesterday's posting, here is another article on technology in K-12 that involves the use of open source content. The article does a credible job of discussing the role of open source content in K-12 classrooms as a replacement for traditional textbooks. Like the piece from yesterday, the article discusses collaborative methods to use technology and foster creativity and learning in the classroom. The piece provides links to different open source content repositories, such as the Creative Commons. One area where the article does fall a little short, from my perspective, is in discussing the quality issues with many open content resources. This is a topic I have touched on before, so I will not belabor the point again.

It is not yet clear how much of a "trend" open content is among educators (K-12 or higher education). If anything, there is a trend within the media suggesting that a more significant shift is afoot. It would be interesting to see a more comprehensive piece of research on faculty use of open educational resources, particularly as textbook substitutes. How do faculty evaluate the credibility of such resources compared to traditional course material options? Anyone out there know of credible research in this area?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Teacher technology standards

I recently came across an interesting article regarding the National Educational Computing Conference this year (took place June 29-July 2 and is the largest K-12 technology conference). The article discusses a new set of standards for teachers to use technology effectively in the classroom. The article notes "that long-standing hierarchies of educational authority are giving way to more collaborative approaches to teaching and learning such as the use of wikis, blogs, and social networks." We are starting to see some of the same developments in higher education, re-emphasizing that the barriers between the two levels of education are diminishing, and that there are things we might learn from K-12 to enhance the learning experiences of our future students.

The article goes on to note that "the new standards emphasize the need for teachers to facilitate and inspire student learning and creativity, to design and develop digital-age learning experiences and assessments, to model digital-age work and learning, to promote and model digital citizenship and responsibility, and to engage in professional growth and leadership." These changes will ultimately drive new pedagogy and content in the higher education market. That will likely mean more changes for course materials at some stage.

The new standards can be found online at ISTE.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Back to posting -- and games

Postings on the CITE will resume today. The knee surgery turned out to be a slightly more complex problem than anticipated, but everything went well and I am back to work. I will be working today to post a couple items, and line up several postings over the next few days.

As a brief reward for your patience, if you have not seen it, check out the "teachable moments" cartoon series by Matthew Henry Hall at Inside Higher Ed. I thought this week's cartoon (shown below with a link back to the original), was an interesting one -- particularly as we think about all the assessment tools, digital learning objects, and other interactive learning tools that will become part of the future of the digital textbook. Hope it gives you a laugh along with something to think about.

On a related note, one of this year's speakers at SIMposium is talking about the concept of "games with a purpose." Here is the blurb for the event:

Did you know that nine billion hours of online solitaire were played in 2003? If 5,000 people played an online picture labeling game instead of solitaire, they could label all of the images on Google in two months.Think that sounds improbable? Luis von Ahn begs to differ - he gets people to work for free every day. His "games with a purpose" entice them to play online games that complete simple tasks and help make computers smarter.Von Ahn, an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon University, shares his pioneering ideas at SIMposium 08, taking place November 9-12 in Orlando. As the inventor of captchas, those mash-ups of fuzzy letters computers make you recognize to access a Web site, he is revolutionizing the way computers learn to think.

Sounds interesting. If I did not have a conflicting engagement, this is one I would be interested in seeing. In what ways are "games with a purpose" infiltrating the educational space?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

A brief hiatus

Apologies to my regular readers. The CITE will be on hiatus for the next few days. I am having knee surgery first thing tomorrow morning and will be away from work through the weekend. I had hoped to get several items posted in advance, but could not squeeze it in today. I have several items to post, so if I am feeling up to it, and can find a way to sit at my computer while still doing the leg exercises I will post a few items as a set. Otherwise, I will get back to regular postings by next Monday or Tuesday, August 11/12. Sorry for the inconvenience.


Sunday, August 3, 2008

Are you building a creepy treehouse?

Somewhere I was recently I heard a great quote. I have been struggling to recall where I heard it, but perhaps the person is a reader and will chime in. I think the person was Stuart Sim at a recent meeting WGU. What I recall is that the discussion covered how in many cases with technology today society or companies are taking our perceptions and going forward and building tools and communities for kids, but not meeting their expectations or interests. He likened these efforts to "building a creepy treehouse."

That analogy struck a chord with me as I think about some of the current ways in which companies, society, educational institutions and college stores try to provide course materials or other services to students and faculty without thinking about (or asking for) their expectations, interests, or opinions. I think back to the trip Brian Cartier and Bill Simpson took to Japan earlier this year and the customer satisfaction and opinion survey the stores conduct there to make sure they know their customer. Without that type of information and input, we may all be building our own "creepy treehouses" for our customers.

Perhaps that is too deep of a thought for a Sunday morning, but it does suggest a strategic action item for stores: re-evaluate your customer relationship. How well do we really know our customers? How do we know what we know about our customers? When was the last time we solicited our customers not just about satisfaction with service, but about store layout? Product offerings? Other aspects of their experience with us? If they could change three things about the store (other than textbook prices) what might they be? If there was one product or service to be added, what would it be? What item(s) do they shop online for the most? Today's students like to be engaged in defining the products and services they consume. How does your store engage students in making it their store? Just some questions to ponder during your daily "strategic thinking" time.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

A publisher blog

In case you did not read the comment left by a reader a few days ago, there is an interesting publisher blog worth looking at. It is called personanondata. Searching through I found several interesting pieces of information, including sales stats for different sectors of the publishing industry, including textbooks/higher ed publishing.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Two stories...

I am on vacation, so just two quick news items of note... drawn from Book Business Extra last week.

First post: The SONY Reader has agreed to adopt the IDPF .epub standard. This gives extra strength to that developing standard. Standards development is an important milestone in the emergence of new technologies. SONY is generally known more for proprietary formats, so this is an important step forward for the relatively new standard.

Second post: Harlequin is introducing "enhanced ebooks." Harlequin has been one of the most innovative players in the ebook space. With enhanced ebooks they will provide some interactivity to the e-book romance novel -- with links to additional information to information that enhances the book experience (maps, photos, commentary, etc.).