Why open a book when you can just turn on a computer? That was what Bryce Johnson was asking himself when he launched CafeScribe, Fourteen40 Inc.'s collaborative ebook website designed to eliminate the need for actual textbooks on college campuses. Last week, the Follett Corporation, a company that provides products and services to the educational marketplace, subscribed to Johnson's digital approach to learning by acquiring technology firm Fourteen40—thus expanding its digital content platform with the addition of CafeScribe. Financial terms of the acquisition were not disclosed.
Johnson, the CEO of Fourteen40 before becoming the current director of etextbook product solutions for Follett, says the idea for CafeScribe struck him just last year: "It occurred to me that students are increasingly more mobile. Nowadays, everything is on your iPhone or PDA and students are still stuck carrying around these large textbooks. It seemed like everything in the corporate world was going electronic, so why couldn't university students also take advantage of the virtual world?"
After flying around the country visiting and talking to university students, Johnson found that there was indeed a longing on college campuses for electronic textbooks, mainly because of the added convenience and deflated cost that such a solution promised. Not only does CafeScribe provide downloadable etextbooks for up to 50% less than the cost of an average textbook, but it also allows students to collaborate online by sharing notes and annotations.
"The fact of the matter is that students voiced a desire to get an 'A' with as little effort as possible," notes Johnson. "Usually, that means meeting outside of class to collaborate within a study group. With CafeScribe, we built these shared networks so they could work together from anywhere." The networks allow students to subscribe to each other's notes so that others' notes will appear online in their own etextbooks. Professors can also join in on the collaborative effort by annotating components of the text. Those annotations are then visible on the students' etextbooks. Students and professors can upload any content to the etextbook and share it with one another, as long as it is original, non-copyrighted work, such as research.
With CafeScribe, students can still work and study together without actually having to be—well—together. "We learn better with interactivity," says Johnson. "There have been studies that indicate that students learn better when they work together, rather than when they just consume information directly from the professor. I like to think of CafeScribe as a 'knowledge network,' where I can share my information with you, you can consume it, and then you can react and respond to my information, all online," he continues.
Beyond the interactive and collaborative benefits of CafeScribe, etextbooks are also much more environmentally friendly than its counterparts. Says Johnson: "There's a benefit to society when you don't have to cut down trees in order to make one small update to a book and print an entire new edition. It saves money for the publisher, and reduces our impact on the environment."
Currently, students at more than 20 universities—including UC Berkeley, Stanford, and Brigham Young University—are using CafeScribe to both save money and enhance the learning experience by moving that experience online. "CafeScribe is a learning platform that simply goes along with the way things are going virtually," Johnson says.