There's an app for that

University of Alberta Faculty of Science introduces popular paleontology course as electronic textbook

Jennifer Pascoe - 01 September 2015

The University of Alberta Faculty of Science continues its leadership in the field of digital learning with the launch of its first electronic textbook this fall. Available as an app through iTunes and Google Play, the textbook is based on the content from the U of A's extremely successful Dino 101 massive open online course (MOOC), an introduction to the study of dinosaurs.

"Textbooks are expensive but an important part of education," says Jonathan Schaeffer, dean of the Faculty of Science. "We are experimenting with ways to ensure students both on campus and around the world have affordable access to the tools they need to be successful in higher learning."

Student experience

The U of A Faculty of Science is focused on providing a variety of learner experiences, working to increase the number of courses that integrate new teaching methods including online and technology-enhanced learning. The new Dino 101 app takes on-campus expertise to learners in the learners throughout the world.

"Students are savvy. The majority of them are carrying powerful machines around in their pockets on their smartphones," says Schaeffer. "Electronic textbooks offer a huge advantage in that they're portable and cost-effective, providing access to a wealth of knowledge at the swipe of a finger. Dino 101 is now a $10 textbook and a self-contained app. In the future, we hope to roll out electronic textbooks with some of our large introductory-level courses."

Affordable academic materials

The initiative falls in line with a push by the U of A Students Union and its Be Book Smart campaign to increase the availability of affordable academic materials. "We are seeing quite a move into more open-source materials, particularly with open educational resources and with more electronic formats-like the platforms we see for the MOOCs as well as fantastic new initiatives like the Dino 101 app," says Fahim Rahman, fourth-year undergraduate science student and vice president (academic) for the Students' Union.

"We are experimenting with ways to ensure students both on campus and around the world have affordable access to the tools they need to be successful in higher learning." -Jonathan Schaeffer

"We certainly hope electronic textbooks help make academic materials more affordable for students," Rahman adds, noting that the costs can pose a huge barrier for some students looking to access post-secondary education. "It's great to see the Faculty of Science taking on initiatives like this. I'm really hopeful that this is part of a larger momentum we're seeing on campus towards pushing for more affordable and innovative ways of delivering academic materials without putting that strong financial burden on students."

Digestible science

Philip Currie, the U of A's world-famous paleontologist and content expert behind Dino 101, is pleased with the new iteration of the material, initially offered through a massive open online course on the Coursera platform. "This opens up a whole new avenue for learning and outreach," says Currie. "Everything in the world is online these days, but many places don't have readily available Internet access. Plus, people love apps, so for those who only have periodic Internet access, including many of the remote locations we work in, the Dino 101 app provides unparalleled accessibility and convenience.

"The general public arguably knows more about dinosaurs than any other science. This app provides a framework for that knowledge in a digestible format," says Currie. "The University of Alberta is one of the premier places in the world to study paleontology. Our university courses are key to that success, and this app is the natural next step for us to share our resources with people all around the globe."

Any profits realized through the Dino 101 app will be reinvested into paleontological research at the U of A. "We are continually working to remain at the forefront of the fields of research for which we are known, including both paleontology and digital learning," says Schaeffer.

The Dino 101 app will be available in early September through iTunes and Google Play. The first lesson is free, and the entire course is available for US$9.99.