27 Nov, 2013

Neuro Cloud: The FREE textbook

The ideas man, Andrew Varnell, has finally given us a taste of what is to come, with a sample chapter of his free textbook. Check it out HERE and read on to find out all about the man behind the idea has to say.


By Cameron Buscher @cameronbuscher

A University of Colorado graduate is working on something that should make any college student and their parents interested: a free textbook. Andrew Varnell graduated in the winter of 2011 with a Bachelor of Arts in Neuroscience and Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, and has since been working on an innovative textbook with people from all around the world at different levels of neuroscience.

The project, Neuro-Cloud, is a collaboration between Varnell, Univerisity of Colorado Associate Professor in Psychology and Neuroscience Don Cooper, and about 35 others from around the globe contributing through a wiki page.

Those 35 others were essentially a melting pot of people interested in Neuroscience education at different levels of academia, from undergraduate students to the Chair of the University of California, San Diego Neuroscience department. When asked about the ability of undergraduate students to contribute, Varnell said it was entirely dependent on the work they submitted, saying “if you’re a Neuroscience major, even as an undergrad, you can absolutely write a chapter on, say, Neurodegenerative diseases.” He says “it’s great for undergrad students because it really helps consolidate their learning and be able to express themselves in a way that they feel like society appreciates and they are valued as students.”

Neuro-Cloud is due to be released in early January 2014 with a free PDF online version, as well as apps across various platforms. Varnell and his team tried to make the textbook more interactive than simple words on a page; he says the optional physical version will come at a small cost depending on publishing cost, and ideally free at some point down the line. Varnell went on to say “It really is an interactive experience the entire way through; we are embedding QR codes that link to radiolab episodes, ted talks, etc. The ideas being that you are on your way to class and you have your textbook out, why not look through the chapter you’re on and look up a relevant YouTube video?”

The physical book is designed to have room to incorporate notes as well as the room for QR codes for the technological interaction, so you don’t have to lug around an extra notebook too. “Ideally,” Varnell says, “I would picture the textbook looking like a moleskin notebook, and we are negotiating with them and other printers.”

The idea for the project started when he was teaching Introduction to Neuroscience at CU with Dr. Don Cooper, and he wanted to have a class project where the class wrote a free textbook, however, he says “they were less enthused than I was about it, let’s put it that way.” He has since worked on it all year, and toured around the world talking about it at various conferences like the “Beyond the PDF2” academic publishing conference in March to Mozilla’s MozFest in London this October.

The team is currently working on their sample chapter, to be released soon. It is currently in the reviewing process of Dr. Don Cooper. The team is currently in talks with universities such as Dartmouth with getting the book out to them, and wants to build more interest and get more copies out there.

Varnell has founded Next Generation Publishing inc. in order to help others who wish to provide textbooks in a similar fashion in their various fields. His goal is to focus solely on that from this point forward and provide platforms that will always be free to view and study from.  Textbooks are one of the most costly items incorporated in a college student’s budget. The National Association of College Stores surveyed 11,000 college students this year and reported that on average, students spent $662 dollars on required course materials in a 12 month period. NACS also estimated that U.S. college book stores had sales totaling $10.45 billion in 2011-2012. Furthermore, textbooks have increased 812% in price since 1978, more than triple average inflation.

You can find out more about the Neuro-Cloud project at their website, www.Neuro-cloud.net

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