Zyante – An Innovative Alternative to Textbooks

Former UC Davis assistant professor Smita Bakshi is now the owner of Zyante, a company that creates interactive, online resources intended to replace textbooks.

The idea is to focus on large-enrollment, lower-division courses where the professor does not have much one-to-one interaction and the course content is generalized. “For example,” Bakshi explains, “there are really only four or five textbooks in common use today to teach C++.” Bakshi and her team take the content for such a course and consult with subject-matter experts to create interactive, animated online content. In the future, they hope to add additional services like grading and tutoring. Instead of buying a textbook, students access the online content via a six-month subscription that costs $30.

As of yet, Zyante has only created one complete resource: Programming in C++. As you will see from the first chapter, which is available for free, the material is explained in text and then illustrated through an interactive animation; there are also frequent quizzes to test the students’ understanding.

Bakshi notes that this format differs from video-based courses because the focus is on animations, which “allows the student to go at her own pace – she can rerun an animation or skip over it if she already knows the information. If you skip ahead in a video, you might miss something.”

As students progress through the material, Zyante collects metrics and provides them to the instructor, which allows the instructor to see how many students have read the material and how long they spent on it, as well as what questions they answered incorrectly. Moving forward, Bakshi envisions adding instructor interaction and grading components.

In the pilot of Programming in C++ at UC Riverside last summer, Bakshi says they “found that the professor started teaching differently because he expected the students to have gone through the animations and the quizzes and come to class prepared. There was more problem solving and more Q&A. He was not putting up as many PowerPoint slides.”

Four universities have signed up to use Programming in C++ this coming fall. Bakshi is also working with subject matter experts to develop a resource for Data Structures and Algorithms, as well as one for Programming in C, which will be used at UC Davis in Winter 2013.

If you are interested in co-developing a Zyante resource, or would like Zyante to develop a resource for your course, email Bakshi.

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