If you’re headed off for college, don’t forget to put tech tools on your packing list. Many recent tech advances for college students can bring a new dimension to education and make learning more fun and effective. Yes, you can do well at college without tech tools, but using these can help you get the most from your college experience.
I recently interviewed executives from four different companies about the tech tools they offer to augment student learning. Each offers unique features to help you learn and all of them can save you money.
1. Flat World Knowledge
If free sounds like a good price for textbooks, then you should check out Flat World Knowledge. Flat World makes textbooks available for free in PDF format to read on the Web. Started in 2007, Flat World Knowledge decided to make college textbooks affordable and adaptable for students
For $30, students can purchase an All-Access pass at campus and online bookstores which lets them download and print a Flat World textbook in PDF, epub, mobi and audiobook formats so they can have it on their computer, iPad and ereader. The average savings for purchasing a Flat World textbook is about 80% over purchasing a physical textbook.
I recently spoke with Jeff Shelstad, Founder and CEO of Flat World Knowledge, about his company’s textbooks, which have been used in over 2000 colleges in 44 different countries. “Our growth in faculty adoption is almost 100% a year,” said Shelstad. You can search the catalog of books on the Flat World website where you can also see which schools are using Flat World books.
Flat World’s digital textbooks are open-source so professors can control the content of their textbooks. Professors are free to reuse, revise, remix and redistribute the books they use in class and then share the modified books with their students in all of the formats available for the original textbook.
“We see about 25% of professors customize the book before they use it the first time but then we see an increasing proportion personalize it after they’re taught from it for a year or two to really make that book their own,” said Shelstad. The original authors receive royalties on the modified books.
Original authors can also see how their textbooks have been modified and use that feedback for future editions. “We have hundreds of faculty who are interacting with our content and thousands of students and we can see all of that behavior on our site.” Shelstad points out that this view into the classroom can be very powerful, resulting in a revised textbook that is adapted to the way students learn.
Flatworld also offers Study Pass, which is a premium online reader for $19.95 that gives students full ebook functionality, including note-taking, highlighting, and study aids, such as flash cards. Study Pass lets students create their own study guide from their own notes and highlights. Study guides can include learning objectives, key takeaways, key terms and definitions. Students can save their study guides online and can print them out.
This video from Flat World shows how the textbooks work:
The Wonder of Tech first covered Inkling in November and again in April when Inkling launched its Frommer’s travel guides. This coming school year, Inking has some exciting innovations for its line of over 200 digital college textbooks. I spoke with Matt MacInnis, CEO of Inkling, about new developments for the company.
Available in Bookstores
This year Inkling will be selling its textbooks in 900 Follett college bookstores. ”When any student walks into one of those stores, they’ll see the physical textbook they’re supposed to buy for their course but right next to it will be an Inkling hang tag where they can grab a tear-off sheet and bring it to the checkout.” At checkout, they will get a code that they can redeem on the Inkling website.
Students will have a choice of buying either the entire Inkling book, for about 40% less than a new physical textbook, or any three chapters from the book. The three-chapter option is called the Pick Three Pack and has proven very popular. “Certainly the majority of the students who are buying Inkling content through Follett stores are now buying these Pick Three Packs,” said MacInnis. Students can also buy Inkling books online at the Inkling website, and access to content on all of their devices.
When you buy an Inkling book, you own it forever, entitling you to free updates of the books when they are released. Your notes, highlights and bookmarks will be preserved even if you delete the books from your devices.
Inkling textbooks are now available to read on the iPhone, iPod Touch and the Internet, in addition to being available on the iPad. “Now anyone who has a computer can access Inkling content,” said MacInnis.
Notes, highlights and bookmarks sync in real-time between your devices. “If you create a highlight on your iPad and you also have your Web browser open, you will see that highlight within ten seconds on your computer,” explained MacInnis.
MacInnis demonstrated how the Inkling app is optimized for the smaller screen of the iPhone. As an example, MacInnis showed me a quiz that could be taken on an iPhone as a student heads to an exam. If you get an answer wrong, the app will show you what the correct answer is, just like the iPad app.
“There’s nothing that you can do on the iPad or the Web that you can’t do on the iPhone or iPod Touch. Everything that has been available on the iPad is now available on the Web and on the iPhone without exception.”
Kno has the largest library of digital textbooks, with over 200,000 titles available. Kno offers textbook rentals for six or twelve months at significant savings over buying a physical textbook.
I recently spoke with Babur Habib, the Founder and CTO of Kno, who explained, “Our whole vision is to increase the efficiency of how students learn.” Kno digital textbooks are available on the Internet, Windows 7 and apps for the iPad and Android devices. According to Habib most students are using Kno textbooks on the iPad. He also advised that the Android app is best used on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1.
Kno textbooks have the familiar look of print textbooks but with added features such as the ability to add bookmarks, notes and highlights. “At the core of our current application is the textbook. On top of that we have 60 features that enrich the textbook,” said Habib.
Students can add highlights, notes and bookmarks. Kno textbooks allow you to take notes right on the page using a finger or a stylus. “Writing is a big part of how you retain information in school,” said Habib, adding that taking notes can help a student with mind mapping, organizing information the way a student thinks.
Students’ notes, bookmarks and highlights sync between the devices and can be accessed from a computer as well as a tablet.
Kno textbooks also feature:
- Smart Links, which provides instructional videos, images and photos within your book,
- Advanced Search, which lets you search across all of your textbooks and your highlights, including text, video and images
- Social Sharing, which lets a professor add highlights and notes, then send these to the students’ textbooks.
- Flash Cards, generated from glossary terms, and
- Dropbox Syncing.
You can purchase Kno textbooks from within the app or at the Kno website. Habib suggests purchasing from the Kno website so you can return the book for a refund if you decide to drop the class. You cannot get a refund if the textbook is purchased through the iTunes App Store.
This video demonstrates the note-taking feature of Kno:
Note that Kno also offers textbooks for grades K-12 from publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Habib said that parents are buying these textbooks to supplement their children’s physical textbooks and to help lighten the backpack that their bring home. “For the price of a couple of Happy Meals you can have a digital copy of your textbook for home.”
Publisher McGraw-Hill has developed a study tool for college students called “LearnSmart” that’s a digital academic tutor for students. The program measures a student’s knowledge and develops a customized learning plan. The McGraw-Hill website links to learning studies showing an average increase of one letter grade from using LearnSmart.
Currently, LearnSmart is available for fifty courses in higher education. This fall for the first time, LearnSmart is available for purchase directly by students. Previously, educators purchased the tool for their students.
I recently spoke with Jay Chakrapani, Vice-President and General Manager of Digital at McGraw-Hill Higher Education, about LearnSmart. “LearnSmart represents that intersection of great content with the digital learning experience.”
Like Netflix or Pandora, LearnSmart learns your preferences. “LearnSmart tracks your level of competency and mastery. It figures out what you don’t know within a course and then it scalpels a learning plan to help you reach your learning goals. It’s continuously adapting to what you know and don’t know and continuously adapting the learning plan to make it very efficient for the learner,” said Chakrapani.
As students are quizzed on topics, they are asked how confident they are in their answers. “LearnSmart uses confidence as an early warning for students to make sure that their confidence matches their actual competency,” explained Chakrapani.
The program then compares the confidence level with the performance level and assesses the students’ proficiency. LearnSmart indicates whether they’re on track to get a C or an A, then shows them areas where their studies should be focused. LearnSmart will then direct students to content in the textbook or other learning activities.
LearnSmart uses feedback from an individual student as well as all the millions of other students who use the program to predict what that student is most likely to forget. The program also helps students structure their time, which may avoid all-night cram sessions the night before an exam.
Chakrapani pointed out that students who miss the structure of high school can get structure from the LearnSmart program. He said that in college 80% of a student’s time is spent outside the class. “With a tool like this, it helps structure a student’s time and gives them a game-like experience that provides a lot of motivation.”
LearnSmart has a leaderboard so you can see how you’re doing versus other students using the app. “The average student has used over 750 learning items.” “We’ve done a lot of subtle things to make it addictive and engaging and it’s working. Students are spending a lot of time in the system.”
An Android app is planned by the end of 2012.
LearnSmart is ideally used with McGraw-Hill textbooks, but can be used with other textbooks as well.
According to Chakrapani, McGraw-Hill is actively working on bringing LearnSmart into high schools.
This video shows how LearnSmart works:
Get the tech advantage in college by using these tools to enhance your learning!
Have you used tech tools to help you learn? What are your favorite tech tools for learning? Let us know in the Comments section below!