Saturday, August 10, 2013

Will "Digital textbook" be the "MOOC" of 2014?

MOOC was the buzzword of the year 2013.  MOOCs can potentially replace some of the redundancy in higher education and thus save money.  Clearly there are problems with MOOCs but used appropriately they have value.

Another area in education that is ripe for disruption is the textbook market.  The publishers charge exorbitant prices for content that may not change much over many years and many editions.

Take an example of a pretty expensive textbook:
This book costs over $100 on Amazon and even the Kindle eBook version costs over $80.  There are other options e.g. renting the book, getting a used book or a loose leaf version of the book.  I just selected this book at random so I can compare its price across various platforms, there are many similar very expensive books covering other topics like history which don't change very much.  So why do these books cost so much?

There are so many free online resources that could be used instead of these books.  The problem is that teachers would have to spend a lot of time reviewing the content for appropriateness and accuracy and then monitor that this content as it changes.  In addition, one would assume that the book organizes the content in some pedagogically appropriate manner which is worth something.

Enter Boundless - this is potentially a disruptive innovation that overcomes this problem.  Boundless provides alternative textbooks that match the content of these traditional books but uses open source material for the content.  Boundless has been reviewed at several places like TIME and INSIDE HIGER ED.
The alternative to this same textbook costs a flat $20 on Boundless.  There are also other books on Algebra that are free if you do not want flashcards and quizzes.

The challenge that this model needs to overcome:
  1. Getting students and teachers comfortable with eBooks
  2. Ensuring the quality/accuracy of the content
  3. Legal issues - Boundless is currently being sued by some publishers over copyrights - schools and colleges would not like to adopt this while there is uncertainty about this.
We wish Boundless all the best in overcoming these challenges.  The commercial textbook market is ripe for disruption and it should happen sooner rather than later.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

First chromecast experience - problems with Corporate WiFi.

I got the Chromecast finally and was eager to try it out.  If you saw my previous post, I was hoping to test it in our small-group learning rooms to share content from each student's mobile device.

The directions are so simple that you can read them upside down!  The monitor I was trying it on has the HDMI and USB ports co-located and thus made it easy to plug in the stick and its USB powered supply cord.  Once you change the monitor input to the HDMI port, it shows the set up screen.
Next you use your smart mobile device to navigate to  On my Win 7 laptop it downloaded an app to help me connect to Chromecast and configure it.  Right now there is no app for iOS and so on my iPhone I could connect to it via my Chrome browser.  Chromecast sets up a hotspot around it that lets your mobile device connect to it to set up the WiFi.
My problem was that Chromecast was not able to connect to either our secure corporate WiFi (LEAP).  I then tried our Public WiFi but it requires users to accept a boilerplate agreement.  Unfortunately there is no way to accept this agreement on a monitor with Chromecast.  
So my last attempt was to try a Verizon MiFi.  This worked reasonably well and I was able to test the system.  The best news is that I was able to project a tab from Chrome to the monitor.  There was a bit of lag with scrolling.  The most disconcerting thing was that you don't see the cursor on the monitor.  So you have to look at your mobile device to use the mouse but the entire audience can see the content on your screen.  

So overall I am happy with the ability to cast content from a Chrome tab though the lag and the absence of the cursor are small drawbacks.
The inability to connect to even a public WiFi due to inability to accept an agreement needs to be fixed.  This may be a problem with other entertainment devices like Roku but is a clear handicap when trying to use Chromecast at work or in a hotel for example.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Look Ma, no Chromecast!

Chromecast is making the news recently.   A cheap device/platform agnostic solution for casting content from any smart device to a large screen and then controlling the content from the original device seems magical.
The device is sold out and there is a 2-3 waiting period Google Play.  I had resigned myself to waiting it out and then this morning I was able to test it without the device!
What I mean is that I was able to test the functionality without actually having the device. 
I have an LG Smart TV which is connected to my iPhone with a LG TV Remote app.  This app allows the iPhone to be a fully functioning remote for the TV.  I was trying to watch the Ashes (England vs. Australia) Cricket match.  I checked my iPhone to see if it was available on YouTube (Willow Channel).  I found that the highlights were available and an then I noticed the Google Cast icon on the upper right of the YouTube App screen.  I tapped it and  the option came up to share on my Smart TV.

Casting a YouTube video from iPhone to Smart TV

I chose the TV and in a couple of seconds the match was being streamed to the Smart TV.  I could control the video from my iPhone.  

Controlling the content on the large screen via iPhone

watching the casted content on large screen
Seeing how well it worked, I can hardly wait for the device so this process can be extended to other apps and Chrome tabs.