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

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Dr. Nelly Cardinale


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, and made arrangements to give her students their first live Internet presentation. Not only did her students attend, but so did some of the college’s faculty, staff and administrators.

Fast forward to 2015. Dr. Cardinale is now a fully tenured Professor of Computer Science at Eastern Florida State College. She is a certified CompTia A+, Network+, and Linux+ Professional. She teaches two Principles of Programming classes during the fall and spring semesters – one during the day and the other in the evening.

This is the first time Dr. Cardinale is using a zyBook to teach programming, and it is really making a difference. “The minute I opened a zyBook, I was hooked,” exclaims Cardinale. Prior to using a zyBook, her students used two traditional textbooks to learn programming, and Cardinale always hoped for more.  Because she is using a zyBook, she now sees her students engage and have fun the way she does when she is programming.

“You don’t learn programming by reading, you learn programming by doing,” says Cardinale. The interactivity inside the zyBooks keeps her students engaged and keeps them coming back for more.

Halfway through the semester, Cardinale took stock of her two classes and realized that she still had 100% retention in one class and 80% retention in her other one. “I have never seen these types of retention rates in any of my programming classes during my 23 years of teaching! And yesterday, while looking out over my classroom, I realized all students in my Principles of Programming classes were completely engaged in the Python zyBook chapters.”

In both of Dr. Cardinale’s classes, she alternates lecturing out of an algorithm book on a zyBook topic one week and then working together with students in class the following week on the zyBook chapters. “In both classes, all students are passing,” reports Cardinale. “And I really feel that the zyBook platform is making the biggest difference.”

Dr. Cardinale assigns 10% of the overall grade for completion of assigned Participation Activities and 15% of the overall grade for completion of the Challenge Activities inside the zyBook.  She has students do the zyBook assignments while in class, but she also reports that some of her students go above and beyond what she requires and complete more advanced zyBook chapters by themselves.

“A big surprise for me,” Cardinale explains, “was that none of the students seems to be struggling to understand the material or write the code that the book is asking them for. In the zyBooks, students can program right on the platform. It automatically grades all exercises and gives students hints on how to do each programming problem, and students get immediate feedback.  The zyBook platform also animates the computer programming steps being processed by the computer, which is something that professors cannot do during regular class lectures.”

Dr. Cardinale likens the zyBook platform to the equivalent of providing an individual programming tutor for each of her students. “They can learn new skills, apply them on the spot, right on the book platform, and get immediate individualized feedback and hints for solving programming problems,” she explains.  “As a professor, I cannot help them in this way during regular class time and still accomplish the goal of teaching the objectives for the course.”

As great as her experience with zyBook has been, Dr. Cardinale does have one concern over using zyBooks:  “I worry about the other professors teaching computer science that are not yet using zyBooks.  They’re going to have a problem on their hands when they try to hand a textbook to a student accustomed to the fun of a zyBook.”

Using interactive material to foster sustained learning

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by Sandy Irani

Professor at University of California, Irvine


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 better to address a confusing topic and conquer it early on — particularly since course material is usually cumulative! Understanding one idea will likely shed light on more ideas presented throughout the course.

One of the features that I love about teaching from a zyBook (and a big part of why I decided to dedicate so much time to writing one on Discrete Mathematics) is that it helps me enforce these good learning habits with my students. I require one or two sections of the zyBook to be read before every lecture. I believe that it’s better for the students if they work through the material only a day or two before the class on a particular topic. The fact that the zyBook material is interactive really forces the students to engage in a way that they wouldn’t have to if they were just passively reading. I can use a set of questions to lead them through an example that they figure out in small steps, and then present the general rule after they have some intuition for the underlying idea.

The fact that most of the students have read and thought about the material before class enables me to use class time more productively. I can spend less time introducing basic ideas and more time on extended examples. I can also get a feel from their reading results as to which concepts they found particularly challenging. I have noticed that I get more questions in class when I teach from the zyBook because students have had a chance to formulate their questions in advance.

I hope that my students see the benefit of preparation before coming to class and that those habits carry over into their other classes. Ideally, students will carry this philosophy of sustained engagement with them as they continue learning throughout their time in school and beyond.

Jumping in Feet First

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by Kathleen Hayes Vice President of Sales at zyBooks


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 opportunity to meet with both new and current customers.  We also had the opportunity to meet with a number of professors who wanted to author zyBooks.

As the new head of sales, it was great to hear the positive response to our technology.  My favorite quote came from a professor from Iowa who had never seen us before and was so impressed by what he saw that he slapped his knee and exclaimed “Where have you been all my life?!  You just made my job so much easier!”.

 The flow of professors was constant throughout the 3 day show and we were able to seed a great deal of evaluation copies. We were also approached by heads of libraries at major universities who wanted the zyBooks in their collections and labs.  This is a market where zyBooks do not currently reside but is a new venue that I will be actively developing.

In addition to booth duty, Professor Vahid was also part of a distinguished panel assigned to discuss the future of the textbook as we know it.  Members of the audience were able to query the panel on a number of relevant topics from adaptive learning, interactivity and the use of mobile devices in the classroom.  My favorite quote came from Professor Vahid: “If the web is a super highway then using a traditional textbook is like riding a horse down that highway.” The panel nodded in agreement and came to the conclusion that the time had come to move away from the printed book towards more interactive and adaptive tools.

Then, just hours after Professor Vahid’s panel discussion, Alex Edgcomb was in front of yet another crowd to present his paper, jointly authored by himself and professors at Univ. of Michigan, Univ. of Arizona, and UC Davis.  His paper won “Best in Show” and revealed results from a study he conducted across 3 universities, 4 courses and 2,400 students, comparing students in the same course that switched from a traditional textbook to a zyBook, with the same instructor and same semester of the year.  Edgcomb found that students using zyBooks had more As and Bs and fewer Ds and Fs.  Those same students also significantly improved exam and project grades.

ASEE was a successful show and a wonderful opportunity for me to begin my career as Vice President of Sales at zyBooks.  I look forward to many more opportunities to showcase our products and expand our technology into new markets.

Those Eureka! Moments

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Ekta Patel

Soon to be joining zyBooks Marketing team


Hi! My name is Ekta. I’m currently finishing up my senior year at Harvard University, and am excited to be joining zyBooks in just a few short months. I’ll be starting on the marketing team and hope to bring my perspectives to zyBooks’ mission as a graduating senior and product of the STEM education system.

Over my four years in college, I have had the privilege of being exposed to an array of teaching methods, from some pretty groundbreaking professors. That said, no matter the level of innovation in the classroom, we still rely primarily on the old fallback — the textbook.

After all, most of the lectures I attend follow the guides of the texts. Homework assignments further list mandatory (read: “suggested”) readings. Answers to daily exercises request me to turn to certain sections of these thick books for explanations—a process I learned to speed up freshman year by simply searching keywords online. Don’t get me wrong, my professors are fantastic—effective in class and during office hours—but they too recognize that reinforcement that ingrains learning—particularly in STEM—comes from practice out of class. Outdated practices and traditional, static materials can only do so much.

So, I’ve resorted to self help. Through animations, videos, and even flash card systems I find online, I finally begin to absorb the material of the class. Unfortunately, I’m usually cramming this in days or even hours before midterms and final exams. The eureka! moments happen—I draw connections to other courses and brainstorm creative applications. But this process, both time-consuming and scattered, is unsustainable.

It’s no surprise that even now, after going through my last round of midterms, I still say I will start supplementing my course work with online activities sooner the next time.

This is my story, but it also speaks to a wider issue: Traditional textbooks are an outdated mode of learning.

Tools to teach wider audiences have evolved through more and more advanced means. News that used to only be delivered by hand can now be accessed readily online. Letters can be sent instantaneously through e-mail and videos shot and shared with a click. The web broadcasts its messages in ripples—calling for change in outdated mechanisms. Can education benefit from similar changes?

My actions speak clearly; I have already started to complement my learning with the broad base of content offered by the Web. But when the demand on students is only increasing, shouldn’t there be simpler tools that gather the strengths of technology together in one place for students with varied learning styles?

This is where zyBooks succeeds and makes learning sustainable. I was introduced to zyBooks last December and immediately found that it catered to my style. zyBooks are layered interactively—something traditional textbooks cannot achieve.  They present modular ways of teaching that facilitate a wide variety of learning styles.

Though I had no prior programming skills, I began a Python zyBook and was immediately drawn to the course’s flow. The zyBook communicates technical details in an accessible format that makes sense. Unlike crowd-sourced sites like Wikipedia or online lecture videos, zyBooks are built from the ground up to engage. zyBooks content is enriched by functionality and diversity. I still remember the code-based examples interspersed throughout the Python zyBook I used, and I can’t wait to learn more!

With zyBooks, lectures and out-of-class work fuse and grow from student input. zyBooks brings all these tools together. In one place. Learning becomes an integrated experience that is constantly effective, not just the nights before the midterm.

I come to zyBooks with the hope of not leaving any education to the next time for these students. With zyBooks, eureka! moments can finally happen at a steady pace.

A Programmer With Many Hats – Working at zyBooks

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Ryan Renno

Software Engineer   ___________________________________________________________________________________ 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 and accompanying educational paradigms had remained stagnant. Even so-called “online textbooks” were basically just digital copies of static prints. So, why not use these technological tools to make not only better textbooks, but better educational systems — ones that are interactive, engaging, accessible, and affordable?

I started at zyBooks (then Zyante) in the summer of 2012, tasked with adding further functionality to our then fledgling content delivery system. We built it from the ground up, designed to be fully immersive, streamlined, and content focused. Looking back, it’s both awesome and humbling to see where we started, how far we have come, and how much further we still have to go. Working at zyBooks has been a phenomenal experience, starting with the overwhelming feedback we get from students and professors. It really brings out a sense of pride to hear about the impact our work has made on someone’s learning experience. And, anecdotes aside, the data is what really shows how our model can make a difference. Another great thing about working at zyBooks stems from the fact that we are a start-up of like-minded, talented people with a vision for transforming education. Since starting, I’ve had the opportunity to wear several different hats, which has allowed me to step outside my programmer’s bubble and into experiences I never would have sought out on my own. From business developer to media designer, and even to sales rep, I’ve been able to expand my skill set through these experiences and gain a better understanding of our business as a whole. My time spent working in different areas of the company has greatly helped me to learn and grow as a young professional. But I think by far my favorite thing about zyBooks as a place to work has been the level of dedication and camaraderie shown by every member of our team. When we work long days and even some weekends, it is so inspirational to see everyone as dedicated as I am to the shared goal in turning all that you see (and don’t see) on zyBooks.com into reality. Gearing up for a new school term is always when we are busiest. From sales and orientation, to content releases and zyBook creation, it’s all hands on deck. But this is when you really see our team shine. Very rarely do I hear “can’t”, “won’t”, or “no”. Everyone is always ready to offer up a solution or put in the time to make our goal happen. We’re a team. Up for the challenge, with passion and enthusiasm for what we do. All in all, it’s been fantastic to see how the zyBooks philosophy always put the students and instructors first, and to experience on a daily basis what it takes to make that happen. zyBooks truly is a great place to work. Visit www.zybooks.com to create a free test account.

zyBooks: They Work

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Alex Goldberg
zyBooks Account Executive


The first time I looked through a zyBook, I was hooked. I had never seen anything like it before. It was interactive, engaging, and made me want to work through the material. Shortly after, I contacted zyBooks inquiring about a position on their sales team —  even though the position hadn’t even been created yet.

I knew I had to be a part of this company. I had never seen a textbook that covered complex material in such an elegant way, and I figured others would want to know about zyBooks.

Turns out, I was right. Nearly 50,000 students are now using zyBooks in introductory STEM courses, across 200 universities ranging from large state schools like UC San Diego, University of Michigan, and Penn State, to smaller private schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Carnegie Mellon University, and the Colorado School of Mines. Whenever a professor or student asks me why they should use zyBooks in their class, or why we have seen such accelerated growth, I always provide the same answer:

zyBooks work.

How do I know zyBooks work? To answer that question, I turn to both the data-driven studies we have been able to produce as a recipient of a National Science Foundation grant, as well as the powerful feedback we have received from users.

One of our most exciting studies, one which won the Best Paper Award at the 2014 American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) conference, found that the interactive approach to learning used in zyBooks resulted in the following when compared to a traditional textbook:

-With a single lesson, zyBooks improved student performance by 16%

-Less-prepared students improved by 64%

-Students self-reported significantly higher levels of engagement with the zyBook

-Students voluntarily spent twice as much time with the zyBook, even though the zyBook had half the text of their regular textbook

While such information encourages professors and students to use zyBooks, even more powerful are the testimonials we receive from current users about how effective zyBooks have been in their classroom.

Professor David Kramer, who uses the Java zyBook in the Introduction to Computer Science course at MSU Denver, wrote:

“Overall, the zyBook is a phenomenal product. You obviously gave a lot of thought to the teaching aspect and to how students will use the textbook.”

Professor Philip Papadopoulos, who uses the Python zyBook for the Introductory Object-Oriented Programming course at UCSD, said:

“The interactive participation exercises enable students to be drilled on the most fundamental concepts while working at their own pace.  They seem to really like the immediate feedback. This frees me to spend more time in lecture on the integration of concepts.  By giving students credit for the required reading tracked by their completion of online exercises, more than 90% are completing their reading each week.”

Professor Timothy Stanley at Utah Valley State University wrote to me after his first semester using a zyBook:

“Within two weeks my students were very desirous to switch exclusively to the zyBook.  The main reason is that [the zyBook] presents reasonable size topics, provides active demonstrations, and then has [learning questions] on the topics.  It was just much easier to understand and use.  And I get reports on the portions of the book students have accomplished, so I don’t have to grade homework.

And one professor wrote to me after using the Discrete Math zyBook:

I have now been asked to teach Discrete Mathematics again in the summer block…Because of my past experience with zyBooks I agreed to teach this topic again only if I could use zyBooks again.”

Before zyBooks, I would have not believed someone if they told me a textbook existed where professors could say with certainty that 90% of their students were doing the reading, that individual professors would teach a course only if they could use that resource, and that students wanted to use that resource exclusively.

Fortunately, such a textbook does exist. And not in just one topic, but in multiple — spanning the breadth of STEM subjects. It’s zyBooks, and it works.

Alex G.

 

Visit www.zybooks.com to create a free test account.

Feedback, keep it coming!

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Roman Lysecky Associate Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of Arizona zyBooks co-author & authoring co-lead


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 particular the questions and feedback from students in lectures, labs, and office hours. But, that only represents a small number of students and instructors using zyBooks. zyBooks enable feedback across all classes using the material to reach the authors directly.

The zyBooks approach uses curated crowdsourcing, which balances the scale achieved by crowdsourcing with centralized authoring and editing to ensure high quality. And, zyBooks make providing feedback easy! All of the animations, question sets, tools, etc. have a feedback button. Clicking the feedback button provides a simple form for rating the activity, adding comments, and indicating if your comment describes a bug in the material.

So, what happens when you submit feedback? If the feedback described a simple bug, such as a typo, zyBooks’ staff often fix and correct the bug immediately. Feedback that includes comments for improving the material are forwarded to the authors. We continually improve and revise the content based on this feedback. Over the past two years, we have added dozens of new animations and question sets, revised sections and code examples, and even added new sections all in response to the feedback we receive. We also regularly review the ratings provided for activities to identify activities that we can make even better.

Students, you are the ones learning using zyBooks. If the text, animations, question sets, or tools are not helping you learn, let us know. We’d also love to know if activities led to an “Aha!” moment where everything clicked.

Instructors, the insight you can provide on how well your students are learning is tremendous. The questions your students ask in lecture, labs, and office hours and their performance on specific topics can help determine those topics with which they are struggling the most. We’d love to hear your insight on the topics your students are struggling with the most and the topics on which they excel.

So, please keep it coming!