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Frank Vahid

Professor of Computer Science & Engineering
Frank Vahid
Improving College STEM Performance
As the job market becomes increasingly reliant on science and technology skills, students are struggling to keep up. Faced with outdated, boring material in expensive textbooks, many students are overwhelmed and underperform in early science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) college courses and more than half of students don't achieve their STEM degrees.

Instead of simply putting textbook pages online, Vahid created zyBooks, STEM material native for the web, using “less text and more action.” ZyBooks include question sets, animations, interactive tools, and embedded homework so students learn by doing the work. A study of students using zyBooks showed improvement in all aspects of student performance including raising letter grades up to 2/3.

Areas of Expertise

Areas of Expertise:
  • Embedded systems
  • Field-programmable gate array
  • Interactive textbooks
  • Computer engineering
College: Department Affiliations: Press Release/Article: Profile:

Select Honors and Distinctions

  • Chancellor's Fellow, UC Irvine, 1988 – 1989
  • Best Paper Nomination, DAC 1992
  • SRC Graduate Fellow, 1990 - 1994
  • Best Paper Nomination, EuroDAC, 1994
  • Design Automation Conference Scholarship Award, 1996 and 1998
  • Outstanding Teacher Award, UCR College of Engineering, 1998
  • Best Paper Award Design Automation and Test in Europe (DATE) conference, 2000
  • NSF Career Award, 1999
  • Best Paper Award Workshop on Compilers and Operating Systems for Low Power (COLP), 2001
  • Best Paper Award, IEEE Transactions on VLSI, 2000
  • Distinguished Teaching Award from the UCR College of Engineering, 2004
  • Best Papers in Architecture recognition for CASES 2003 paper, recognized with paper in Special Issue of IEEE Transaction on Computers, 2005
  • "Dissertation of the Year" for 2006 awarded to Ph.D. student Roman Lysecky by the European Design Automation Association, in the category of Embedded Systems

Latest Research

Q&A

Q: How do zyBooks works?
ZyBooks are interactive web-native textbook replacements that engage students to participate as they learn and keep up-to-date with instructors and relevant material. They integrate theory and practice of learning concepts. ZyBooks use less text and rely on learning questions, animations and interactive exercises to convey information. They contain the same core concepts as a traditional textbook, but present them in a more engaging way.

Q: Do zyBooks increase students' academic success?
Using zyBooks boosts scores, student engagement and the success rate of the lowest-performing learners. A two-year study of nearly 2,000 students at three universities found that those using zyBooks achieved an average quarter-grade higher in their course work than those using static content. A controlled study of 136 students revealed that they chose to spend twice as much time engaging with the interactive zyBook material compared with reading static electronic textbooks, and that the initially least-prepared students had dramatically improved learning outcomes.

Q: What are the benefits of interactive textbooks?
Students like zyBooks because their cost is low (around $50), their interactive style and use of learning questions.

By rewriting text into questions that introduce new concepts, Zyante’s (the company that produces zyBooks) book developers not only hold students’ interest but also guide them to learn through mistakes. For example, if I ask a question that I intend for them to get wrong such as ‘Does sound travel faster or slower on the moon?’ Students might think, ‘Gravity is less on the moon so you jump up and then come down slower so maybe sound travels slower,’ and they click ‘slower.’ When they get it wrong and see the explanation — the correct answer is ‘not applicable’ because sound doesn’t move on the moon because there’s no atmosphere — they say, ‘Oh, I see,’ and there is a learning moment.

Q: How do zyBooks help professors with teaching?
Professors also like zyBooks because they provide insights and automate time-consuming tasks such as assigning and grading homework. All learning materials, practice exercises and assessments are integrated into one Web system. An online dashboard lets instructors monitor student activity (so if a teacher asks students to read before class, now they finally do). The teacher can see which concepts students have mastered and where they might need help. The goal is to complement teachers’ efforts so they can focus classroom time on more challenging concepts, student collaboration and other things that make really good use of their time.

Q: What is your hope for the future of zyBooks?
Used by 40,000 students in 200 colleges and universities, zyBooks cover 12 subjects and in the future will include up to 90 subjects and tools such as virtual labs. The goal is to provide more services so universities can outsource what makes sense to outsource and focus on what they can do locally to add educational value.

Q: What role has UCR played in the development of Zyante?
Zyante was developed at UCR and now employs a half-dozen UCR graduates. UCR provided the company’s first office space in downtown Riverside, and the first zyBook was tested in a UCR Introduction to Programming course in Fall 2012. Basically, right now Zyante is largely a UCR shop. The development team is all UCR grads and the engineering director, Scott Sirowy, is a UCR Ph.D. whom we attracted from a key position at a multibillion-dollar company.