Future Think: GinkgoTree
As the Book Industry Study Group report "Student Attitudes Toward Content in Higher Education" suggests, things are changing, and fast, for higher education publishing. And the Supreme Court's decision in Kirtsaeng V. Wiley is only going to hasten the speed at which higher ed publishers move to digital platforms for course content.
Enter GinkgoTree, a fresh-faced start-up from a group of former academics who, after bemoaning the lack of a cheaper alternative to expensive textbooks and a more elegant alternative to online course packs, decided that theirs was the solution they were waiting for.
Described by The Atlantic as "a Tumblr for making your own textbooks" and intended to be a complete textbook replacement, GinkgoTree's team set out to make it as easy as possible for instructors to pull almost any content, be it from a book, journal, newspaper, pdf, video, Web site, online resource or Word, PowerPoint or Excel document, into a streamlined online course.
"We started about a year ago and we pivoted through several other possible ideas and finally landed on bringing course packs to the digital world correctly," says Scott Hasbrouck, CEO and Founder of the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based company. "We'd seen a couple of other academic publishers attempt this and they'd failed to expand on what a course pack is with regard to what you can do with technology. We created something that's more of an online curriculum than a course pack."
GinkgoTree's integration with Filepicker.io makes it easy to bring in documents from services such as Gmail, Google Drive, Evernote and Drop Box. Integration with Copyright Clearance Center makes obtaining licenses and permissions for many books and publications — on a per-page basis — relatively painless.
"We handle all of the billing and fees to publishers for you," says Hasbrouck, whose background is in science, but who has dabbled in entrepreneurship. (Income from Hasbrouck's iPad productivity app PaperDesk helped finance development.)
"I was working on a Ph.D. in chemistry at the University of Georgia. I was just a lowly TA and I managed to really see a lot of the problems in higher education from an instructor's standpoint," he explains. "Between that and my frustrations as an undergraduate paying beaucoup bucks for course materials," Hasbrouck decided to follow his start-up bliss.
GinkgoTree works in all Web browsers, based on the fact that while upward of 90 percent of students use laptops, student tablet adoption is still just around 6 or 7 percent. It can also integrate with Blackboard.
"Building a native tablet app is sexy, but it doesn't make sense right now. We're not going to build something for a market that doesn't exist," says Hasbrouck. "It works on the iPad in the Safari browser, but it works best on a laptop browser."
The four-person team is still in "the bootstrapping phase," and has around 300 instructors at what Hasbrouck estimates are 150 different universities using the platform. They've got a pilot program in place at Spring Harbor University and will begin focusing on institution-wide adoption after an initial push to get individual instructors on board. "We really just wanted to prove interest and build something that solves a problem," says Hasbrouck.
To experiment with GinkgoTree, visit ginkgotree.com.