Studies, surveys, and experiments that prove the effectiveness of zyBooks.

zyBooks wins competitive Phase I SBIR grant from U.S. Dept. of Education


Hadley Dreibelbis, Finn Partners

zyBooks receives $200,000 Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Award

Los Gatos, California, June 6, 2018 – With a growing workforce demand for computer science skills, it is more necessary than ever for high schools, colleges and universities to adequately prepare students for future jobs through coding education. zyBooks, a company focused on developing web-based STEM learning tools, is addressing this need with a newly awarded U.S. Department of Education Institute of Education Sciences grant.

The U.S. Department of Education Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program provides over $1,000,000 in funding to each grantee for the research and development of education technology products that improve student learning and have commercial potential. zyBooks was awarded Phase I of funding ($200,000) to develop a coding education program prototype for high schoolers.

“We are thrilled to have the opportunity to create this program that allows students to practice and build coding skills in an immersive way,” said Smita Bakshi, Co-Founder and CEO of zyBooks. “The U.S. Department of Education’s investment in zyBooks shows a commitment to the future of innovative, digital learning. We look forward to furthering our mission of helping college STEM students graduate and succeed.”

Over the course of 8 months, zyBooks will perform Phase I testing of the coding education prototype. The proposed program would include a “progression tool” allowing students to take small steps and receive immediate feedback while actively solving problems. For example, as the student works, the program will simultaneously generate and grade exercises, provide solutions and give explanations for important coding practices. A key innovation involves automatically providing specific hints or suggestions based on the particular error that a student might be making, giving them the help they need to avoid getting stuck. This prototype is an innovation of existing coding pedagogy and could pave the way for future coding education programs.

“Our research has shown that student performance increases within one lesson using zyBooks’ digital-first model,” said Bakshi. “Engaged students are successful students, and we look forward to applying this learning model to the coding education prototype.”

Since zyBooks’ founding, more than 500 universities across the United States have adopted its innovative web-based STEM materials, impacting over 300,000 students. For more information, please visit our website:

About zyBooks
zyBooks was founded in 2012 by Smita Bakshi, a former UC Davis Electrical Computer Engineering professor, and Frank Vahid, a Computer Science and Engineering professor at the University of California, Riverside. Its mission is to help college STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) students graduate. zyBooks’ web-based STEM material focuses mainly on computer science and engineering. Students learn by doing, using materials with minimal text, question sets, animations, interactive tools, and embedded homework. zyBooks are collaboratively authored by talented teams of professors, content developers and software engineers. Since its founding, adoption has grown to more than 500 universities across the U.S. with more than 350,000 students having taken college courses using zyBooks instead of traditional college textbooks. There are currently 30 zyBooks spanning a range of computer science, math and engineering courses, and the company is expanding the library to provide comprehensive coverage across the STEM curriculum.

How we help reduce student frustration

zyBook authors understand that content delivery can evolve as we better understand our students. One area of concern for us is student frustration. Certainly, we want students to wrestle with our content, but we don’t want them to struggle so much that they give up in frustration.

Authors use our student activity report to help identify content areas for improvement by targeting what students struggle with the most. This report is for all student activity for a subject during a time frame, such as Java during Fall 2017. In the report, each activity has useful metrics, which are averages across all students. We might look at the number of tries students take until they answer correctly, the amount of time spent on a particular activity, or the number of bug reports submitted to our team.

Let’s demonstrate our approach using one particularly useful metric: The number of tries students make until correct. We’ll sort activities by largest number of tries to lowest, then work our way down the list.

Here’s the approach our authors take to review. In general, we sort activities by metric and pick the top-most activity. Our goal is to identify potential issues that students may be having in that activity.

  • Open the activity in a zyBook and work through the activity; does anything stand out?
  • Look through the section; are the concepts in the activity covered appropriately or need improvement?
  • Look at the actual student submissions; do any patterns stand out?

For each specific issue that is common among students, we will then address that issue. We may add a hint, adjust the wording of the instructions, split one activity into two, or adjust content leading up to the activity. Two months later, we run the report again to see whether the changes helped students. Then, we repeat the process to ensure students are getting an optimal experience in zyBooks.

These activity reports fit in with our other continual improvement processes (such as immediately addressing bug reports, reviewing instructor feedback, and periodically reviewing all non-bug reports) by helping identify issues that might otherwise go unspoken.