Help Danny Buy Textbooks

Just before starting the 8th grade Danny finally opened the email his good teacher sent out. In addition to a few classroom rules Danny discovered a list of textbooks for him to buy, so he took hold of Mom’s credit card and went to look for those books online.

Danny’s father was thrilled. He suggested Danny use Kotar because he’d just seen this Center for Educational Technology app described as “Israel’s flagship in education, a convenient way to access to thousands of schoolbooks electronically.”

Danny went onto the website and began to look for the textbooks required for his 8th grade class at Alliance High School in Tel Aviv. Though there was no listing for his grade and school, there was a catalog of books organized by grade groups. The “7th-9th Grades” link led him to a PDF file listing textbooks by grade and subject matter.

So what if he now had to manually locate the books the teacher sent? Well, unfortunately clicking the name of a book on the list did not open up a link to it, so Danny had to copy down each book’s name from its cover photo, click the back button on his browser and look for the book using the website search engine.

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Danny found the book in his search results and was finally allowed the option of purchasing either an online version or a printed copy. His sister Dina was more fortunate: in the PDF file listing her 3rd Grade books, each book’s cover photo did in fact link to the book itself.

This “flagship” website raises several questions. Why do the search results display only 5 books at a time but are divided into 20 different pages? Why does adding a book to my shopping cart send me back to the homepage rather than the 8th Grade textbook list I was using? Why is the text gray and not black? And when a book isn’t available for purchase yet, why not ask me to leave my email and inform me when it does become available?

Making schoolbooks available for purchase online in both digital and hard copy is a great step forward. Nowadays, however, it’s not enough to have a good idea. With all the effort put into the technology, why not spend time making a user-friendly website (and I’m not even talking about UX)? Don’t you have kids? Have you never been to school before?

The problem is that this otherwise great initiative was described as the flagship in education. If this was someone’s private venture I’d be filled with compliments for their effort – but this is the Center for Educational Technology, and they should be held to a higher standard.

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Most online schoolbook apps are neither well-built nor user-friendly. The ZNY website lets you search for books by location and school, but the search itself doesn’t work. Bookme lists book by grade so you can spend your free time going over the 101 items on the 5th Grade list and fish out what you need.

The one website that does work is the unassuming Goldbooks, from an old family store in Petah Tikvah. The website lists books (both new and used) by city, school and grade and all its search mechanisms work like they should.  Despite its unappealing design, Goldbooks wins out over the Center for Educational Technology’s Kotar website.

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