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

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contact: Hadley Dreibelbis, Finn Partners Hadley.Dreibelbis@finnpartners.com 202-518-6496 ZYBOOKS USES U.S. DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION GRANT TO FUND UNMET NEEDS IN COMPUTER SCIENCE EDUCATION 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...read more ››

Coding in the biochemistry lab

Emma Ward has her eyes fixed on a career in life science research. The University of Illinois at Chicago student talked to numerous faculty while investigating graduate school options. As she gathered advice in laying out her path towards her goal, one problem stood out to her: there was a need for programming skills in biology and biochemistry. “[The demand is] only growing in life sciences for people to learn computational skills,” she said. Several PhD students remarked to her that they had to teach themselves, as computer science wasn’t covered in their typical undergraduate curriculum. Seeking advice from some principal investigators in her field, the value of the skill was confirmed further as a tool that would give her a strong edge on her applications. “Many PIs said someone with computational skills would absolutely be considered first.” As a biochemistry major, Emma took many classes that used digital learning...read more ››

Artist discovers a passion for computer science

When thinking about a college major, John Pham was most interested in art and robotics. So, when it came time to declare a major at the University of California, Riverside, he felt most drawn to mechanical engineering, well aware of the challenges that lay ahead. John’s first experience in coding happened at Citrus Hack, the April student hackathon at UCR. “I just went to check it out,” he says, but John actually produced a video game with his team. John discovered that web development and machine learning allowed him to integrate his artistic interests to solve problems. John initially braced himself for a tough start learning C++ in CS10, the introductory computer science course at UCR. “This is probably going to be the hardest class I’ve ever taken,” he remembers thinking. At first, John would take several tries on learning activities using zyBooks. By the end of the course, it...read more ››

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...read more ››

It’s Friday!

Friday morning commute courtesy of Sarah, our Product Support Manager!

Why we work at zyBooks, part 2

In a previous post, we shared some responses from our zyBooks colleagues to the question “Why do you work at zyBooks?” We went around the office (and the virtual office around the country) to capture some more of what drives our company.

Assignments…and a surprise!

From time to time, the product team at zyBooks loves to surprise customers (in a good way)! That’s why in this post, we are announcing not one but TWO new platform features available in your zyBooks right now. We’ve been talking about one for a few months now, but the other is most likely a pleasant surprise!

Thankful for you!

We’ve enjoyed a wonderful 2017 with all of you. In fact, this year zyBooks has impacted more students and instructors than ever! For 2018, we’re looking forward to serving even more customers and offering more products that increase student confidence and make instructors’ jobs more enjoyable. We’ll have some exciting news for you very soon regarding the latest platform updates, so please stay tuned!

Increasing competency in C

Even to the most seasoned instructor, when 450 students take their seats on the first day of class, the landscape can feel intimidating. Confident achievers sit down in the lecture hall beside curious learners and annoyed students. Some arrive with years of coding experience, whereas others are just starting out. How can an instructor possibly meet the needs of such a disparate array of students and offer each a path to success? For Dr. Robert Gysel, a professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Davis, the solution is zyBooks. “I use zyBooks mainly for one of our lower-division core computer science courses, which is taught using C,” Dr. Gysel explains. Since C is considered a general purpose language, it is a prerequisite not only for computer science majors, but for engineers as well. Consequently, students with diverse backgrounds and skill sets are required to enroll in Dr. Gysel’s...read more ››

Why we work at zyBooks

We spend a significant portion of our lives at work. For some, work is just a necessary evil to pay for life’s pleasures. For others, work is a passion and part of one’s complete lifestyle. In this post, staff at zyBooks respond to the question “Why do you work at zyBooks?”

When students tell us how they really feel

Student feedback is vital to creating an effective learning experience. Every day, we receive questions and comments from students about zyBooks. Some of these students were kind enough to allow their comments to be shared – hear what they have to say!

A better way to promote active learning in a MATLAB course

One of the more challenging courses to teach in an engineering discipline is computer programming. Focusing only on algorithms and programming blocks leaves little time to build a connection to daily engineering problems. On the other hand, teaching based on problem solving does not allow for a deeper comprehension of algorithm development. “Finding the right balance between these approaches was the issue that we had faced in the Cal Poly Pomona Aerospace Engineering Department for teaching MATLAB,” Dr. Nakhjiri explains. “I decided to try a different approach.” A traditional textbook cannot adequately engage the students in the process of learning. “No textbook could provide the level of student interaction I was hoping for, until I found the MATLAB zyBook,” he notes. The zyBook platform not only encourages the student to become an active learner; it also challenges the traditional learning environment with a focus on hands-on experience. “Cal Poly Pomona...read more ››

Discrete Math: out with the tome, in with the zyBook

Dr. Sandy Irani is a longtime Professor of Computer Science at UC Irvine. And like any good professor, she constantly looks for ways to improve the classroom experience. But over the years, Dr. Irani has kept running into the same issue; the classic textbook for her Discrete Mathematics course (considered the “standard” across universities) was just not as effective as she had hoped. At 800 pages, the textbook was large, heavy, and had a $230 price tag to match. Students balked at the price, and many did not buy the book. Instead, they tried to get 100% of the class’s content from lectures alone. This frustrated Dr. Irani since “a key component of the learning process — preparation and reinforcement via text — was missing.” Of the students who did spend $230 on the book, even fewer actually used it. “I struggled with how to convey the crucial information found...read 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 much...read more ››

HIGHER EDUCATION: UCR behind next-gen ‘books’

This week, zyBooks, a Los Gatos-based company co-founded by UCR professor Frank Vahid, received a $4 million infusion of cash from a combination of sources. Bialla Venture Partners in Sausalito put down $2 million. The rest came from other investors and a grant from the National Science Foundation.


zyBooks Secures $4 Million in Funding to Take College Textbooks into the Interactive Age

zyBooks, the leading provider of interactive digital learning products for the rapidly growing higher education STEM (Science, Technology Engineering & Math) market, announced a $4 million investment round led by Bialla Venture Partners, LLC. In conjunction with the funding, managing member of Bialla Venture Partners, David Uri, will join the company’s Board of Directors.


zyBooks Secures $4 Million in Funding to Take College Textbooks into the Interactive Age

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – February 10, 2016 – zyBooks (zybooks.wpengine.com), the leading provider of interactive digital learning products for the rapidly growing higher education STEM (Science, Technology Engineering & Math) market, announced a $4 million investment round led by Bialla Venture Partners, LLC. In conjunction with the funding, managing member of Bialla Venture Partners, David Uri, will join the company’s Board of Directors.


User spotlight: Dr. Nelly Cardinale, Eastern Florida State College

The year was 1979, the screen was black and the text was orange. This was the year Dr. Nelly Cardinale purchased her first computer, an Apple II.  It came with four textbooks on programming and nothing else.  “If you wanted to do anything on the computer back then, you had to do it yourself,” Cardinale explains. “There were no apps or programs.  You had to write your own.” She taught herself the Applesoft Basic Programming language, and Nelly’s passion for programming was borne. In January 1994, shortly after the Internet was available to the general public, Dr. Cardinale began teaching the Pascal programming language. Later that year, a second version of Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) was released. At that time, the college where she taught did not even have a website. She collaborated with a former college professor, who opened up the first Internet Service Provider (ISP) in her area,...read more ››

zyBooks Touts ‘Less Text, More Action’

If a picture is worth 1,000 words, animations are worth 5,000—at least, that’s one of the principles underlying interactive online textbook replacements zyBooks. Another principle: Students should interact and engage with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) learning as if they’re in dialogue with their education.


Better Learning Online

To help students succeed in college STEM courses, UC Riverside computer scientist Frank Vahid created zyBooks — interactive STEM learning material native for the web.

Success in learning and teaching

Wendy Hankes has taught high school classes for 24 years and is an expert at picking up new things fast. But when the principal of Big Spring High School in Pennsylvania asked her to teach a brand new Intro to Java course the next school year, even Ms. Hankes was overwhelmed. “I was going to be teaching Java and I did not know anything about Java,” Hankes remembers. With only a few months at her disposal, Hankes rushed to sign up for a popular online Java course, but it was not helpful. “I did not get much out of it,” Hankes says. Then Hankes heard about zyBooks from a fellow instructor. She sat down with the Programming in Java zyBook and, in the span of one summer, taught herself how to program in Java well enough so that she could teach it. With the school year rapidly approaching, Big Spring...read more ››

zyBooks Now at 200 Universities in Two Years, Challenging the “Free Materials” Movement as Well as Big Publishers

LOS GATOS, California –April 6, 2015 – A company formed by professors and computing professionals to help college students succeed in STEM courses seems to have struck a chord, with over 200 universities and 60,000 student users in just two year. Yet unlike many recent efforts towards free materials such as Khan Academy, MOOCs, and OpenStax, this company unabashedly charges a subscription fee.


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 textbooks...read more ››


When Professor Frank Vahid created textbooks for online use, he didn’t just transfer text into pixels. He created a new way of learning.


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 zyBooks.com. 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, in...read 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 web...read 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.

Zyante Awarded the Prestigious NSF SBIR Phase II Grant to Commercialize zyBooks Authoring Platform

Zyante, the company that produces zyBooks, has been awarded a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Program Phase II grant by the National Science Foundation. The award, in the Education Application category, is the result of a rigorously competitive application process and is indicative of the innovative work being done on zyBooks. Fewer than 10% of companies who apply for NSF’s SBIR program are awarded a Phase II grant. The Phase II award is based on zyBooks’ continued development of a web­based authoring framework for university­level STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) content via curated crowdsourcing in an animated, interactive format. Under the zyBooks curated­crowdsourcing model, which differs significantly from traditional crowdsourcing, a core author/editor team creates the initial content, requiring little upfront investment. The community then adopts the content and contributes items under the core team’s curation, with the core team serving as a means of editing and streamlining the content....read more ››

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 immediate...read more ››

Let’s breathe interactive life into the common textbook

Students learn in a variety of ways — they listen, read, create, speak, share, engage, ask, get assessed, receive feedback, get mentored, and eventually maybe become a mentor themselves. Some need to read less and listen more, others need to “do” first then read. Some need to ask, others need to share, others need to drill. The permutations are endless.


“Learning by Doing” with the Modern Textbook

I clearly recollect my Circuits and Systems class in a freshman class of 45 students, where every 3rd period was a time for the professor to walk amongst us as we solved problems and raised our hands for help.  Learning happens by doing, and we had an opportunity to do just that with the help of our professor.