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 ››

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 the...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.

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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.

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

SAN FRANCISCO, CA – February 10, 2016 – zyBooks (www.zybooks.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.

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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.

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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.

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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 ››

FROM MIND TO MARKET: zyBooks

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

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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.

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