Staff Stories

Jumping in Feet First

I’ve never been one to dip my toe into the pool to test the water first.  I’m more of a “cannonball” girl, hurling myself directly into the deep end, making a big splash.  That is why it felt perfectly natural to find myself in the zyBooks booth at the American Society of Engineering Education (ASEE) conference in Seattle, on what was only my fifth day of employment with the company! The zyBooks team held court at Booth 421, proudly displaying our current suite of tools as well as the three new engineering titles we are launching soon: “Circuits”, “Material and Energy Balances” and “Computer Organization and Design”. Alex Edgcomb, Lori Berns, Evan McCann and Professor (and zyBooks co-founder) Frank Vahid came together to work the booth.  The ASEE exhibit hall opened Sunday night at 5:00pm and we were ready for action!  Our booth was constantly busy and we had more ››

Using interactive material to foster sustained learning

I teach Discrete Mathematics at UC Irvine. Although many professors shy away from teaching lower division courses, I really enjoy reaching students early in their undergraduate careers. In addition to teaching a subject that I love, I also have a chance to impact students’ academic work habits based on my experiences. Looking back, while I loved college, I do have some regrets about how I managed my time. I did sometimes skip class(!) and then had to cram in the material at the last minute. At some point, though, I realized that the students who took away the most from their undergraduate experience were the ones who showed a sustained effort throughout the semester. The best way to learn a subject in a deep way is to engage with the material repeatedly over time. It’s a bad habit to let an idea that you don’t understand slip away. It’s more ››

A Programmer With Many Hats – Working at zyBooks

My journey to zyBooks started with one person: my graduate advisor at UCR, Frank Vahid. Frank had been one of my undergraduate professors, and I had been particularly struck by his unique philosophy towards teaching. I knew I wanted to work with Frank during my graduate studies because of this, because I agreed — the best way to learn anything, really, is to do it. Try it out. Practice. Tinker. As an aspiring programmer, this was music to my ears. It was during this time that Frank began to articulate an idea that would eventually lead to zyBooks. The concept was simple: Make better textbooks. Admittedly, as a programmer, this idea at first struck me as rather odd. Textbooks? How…dusty. But, the more I thought about it, the more the concept made sense. Over the past several decades, technological innovations had skyrocketed in number and scope; yet, the basic more ››

Feedback, keep it coming!

I’d like to start with a quick introduction. My name is Roman Lysecky. By day (and often nights and weekends) I’m an Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the University of Arizona. I am also a co-author of the Programming in C, Programming in Java, and Programming in C++ zyBooks, as well as the co-lead of authoring for As an author, I’d like to discuss the role of feedback in authoring content for zyBooks. First off, a big “Thank You!” to all of the students and instructors who have already provided feedback, comments, and bug reports. Your input has been awesome and has helped to make our zyBooks even better. When writing, I put a lot of effort into trying to clearly describe concepts, create animations that teach those concepts effectively, and write question sets to teach and reinforce. I often draw upon my experience teaching, more ››

Textbooks Aren’t Written for Students

Having been involved in university teaching and publishing for 25 years, and authored three textbooks for two major publishers, I’ve learned this: Most textbooks aren’t written for students. They are written for instructors. That’s because instructors make the adoption decisions.  At zyBooks, from day one we insisted that zyBooks are to be written for students. That means: Less text: Students don’t read walls of text. Nor should they have to today, with better alternatives. We’d rather students read 5 sentences than skim 20. More activities:  Students learn better via interactions. We use questions for learning (not quizzing) to engage students. We let animations do the talking. We build tools that enable students to build understanding. Down-to-earth writing: We use straightforward language. We aggressively minimize word-count without losing information. Core topics: Including all possible topics creates a monster book. We focus on core topics; teachers today can supplement with the more ››

Meet the zyBooks development team

Sometimes in the midst of all the great tech that surrounds us, it can be easy to forget that the cool websites, great apps, and can’t-live-without devices that you use daily are designed and built by teams of people. I’d like to introduce one of our core teams at zyBooks, our product development team.

The Web’s Real Power for Learning

Would you send your child to a piano instructor who teaches by playing in front of 50 students, testing and grading them every few weeks, and moving on? Probably not. Except for those with an initial knack or extra-strong commitment, most students would quit. Yet that’s how most colleges teach science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) to their students. Individualized instruction is lacking.  So, the only students who persist are those with an initial knack or extra-strong commitment, and U.S. STEM attrition exceeds 50%, approaching 80% at some schools. The web can help. The web’s real power for learning is individualized instruction. A student can learn through interactive questions, simulations, and games. She can solve math problems and write computer programs, with immediate automatic feedback, and with the system adapting to her performance. Circuits can be created, chemistry experiments simulated, and virtual frogs dissected.  Less text, more action, with more ››