Ed-Tech News Weekly Round-Up: E-Books, Textbooks, Google Books, & More

Inkling, the makers of a textbook app for iPad, announced this week that the company has raised a round of funding that includes a minority investment from the two largest publishers of educational content in the world: Pearson and McGraw-Hill. Inkling's app re-envisions how textbook content should appear on tablets, making them far more rich and interactive than simply converting the text to a digital format. I had a great talk with the CEO Matt MacInnis, and you can read my story about their funding news and their vision for textbooks here.

Chegg, the largest textbook rental company in the world, announced this week that it was expanding its offerings to include course selection and homework help information. The additions stem from two acquisitions the company made last year -- CourseRank and Cramster -- and it's an effort, according to Chegg, to make its services more personalized. I've been pretty skeptical in the past of Chegg's longevity, particularly as more and more textbooks go digital. The move to offer these new features makes sense, and if nothing else, it will cause students to return to the company's website more than just at the beginning of the semester when they're aiming to get their books.

One of the largest publishers of children's books in the world Scholastic reported a worse-than-expected quarterly loss this week. Despite an influx of federal education technology funds, profits were down for the company, in part because of budget pressures for schools and families. As it's prone to do, The New York Post salaciously headlines the news as "doom" for the company. I'm not sure about that, but it will be interesting to watch how and if Scholastic can recover here and, like other publishers, make the shift to digital offerings.

A federal judge threw out a proposed settlement between publishers, authors, and Google Books this week, throwing into question the future of Google's massive efforts to digitize the world's literature and make it available for search. The proposed settlement went "too far," according to the judge, giving Google too much control over "orphan works," those books whose copyrights aren't known. The Chronicle of Higher Education's Jen Howard has a good write-up of this long legal saga. While the ruling may be a set-back for Google's plans and while some have said this will stymie the move towards a national digital public library, I think it's important to remember that any public effort like that shouldn't be entrusted to the private sector.

California Connects, a federally funded program aimed at increasing digital literacy and broadband access among under-served communities launched this week, as part of a multi-year effort to address California's digital divide.

The FCC and Department of Education unveiled a special version of the National Broadband Map that reveals the availability and speed of broadband at U.S. schools. According to the data, about two-thirds of schools surveyed have broadband speeds less than 25 Mbps. Most schools need a connection speed of about 100 Mbps for every 1000 students.

The Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph reports that Facebook kicks off its site over 20,000 underage users a day. That's a pretty startling figure, I think, even though it's probably just a small portion of those under-13s on Facebook. I wrote about this story at href="http://mindshift.kqed.org/2011/03/how-young-is-too-young-for-kids-to-start-social-networking/">MindShift as it raises lots of interesting questions about age-appropriateness and digital citizenship -- both for kids and for parents.

And finally, happy 16th birthday to the wiki. Thanks, Ward Cunningham, for giving the world one of the most powerful collaborative online tools.

Photo credits: UW Digital Collections, via Flickr


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