Posts Tagged ‘ ebook ’

eBook Review – Kno – Adds More Features

As the 2012 back-to-school season picks up speed, so do the updates to eBooks and eBook platforms. Tech providers know that now is the time when students decide if they will make the leap to eBooks, and if so, which device and platform they will choose. That said, Kno recently released a set of updates to its eBook platform. To keep everyone up to speed, here are links to my previous coverage of Kno’s development:

Kno – eBook Review
Kno – eBook Review Follow Up

And now for the new updates:

Collaboration Tools: Now, through the use of social media, students and teachers can share highlights, notes, and more within the content of their books. The system is designed so that teachers can create within the document and then share it with students outside of the classroom. Additionally, students can share with whomever they choose, whether it be a classmate or anyone else using the same eTextbook.

Expanded Platform: The Kno Android app, which is available for free download, will now be preloaded on the Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 device. In addition, Kno announced that the app will also be available for previously excluded Windows 7 mobile devices.

Advanced Search: Search now includes all notes, textbooks, and PFDs, thus powerfully including and indexing must-find information and making it easily available.

eBook Review: Flatworld Knowledge

Here we are with another eBook review, this time for a platform with a rather interesting business model. Today we’re taking a look at Flatworld Knowledge, the self proclaimed “world’s largest publisher of free and open college textbooks.”

Flatworld Knowledge describes themselves as a “college textbook publishing company on a mission.” What mission is that? Simple, to lower the cost of textbooks for students and allow faculty to control the material they teach and the materials their students are required to purchase. How do they do this? First and most importantly by ditching the traditional ‘All Rights Reserved’ license that most publishers use for a ‘Creative Commons license’ which is an open-license. For faculty this means “unprecedented control over content” and “permission to create a derivative version of any textbook.”
Essentially, faculty have the ability to modify any textbook offered by Flatworld Kowledge to custom fit their purposes. This can involve removing materials that won’t be covered in the course, adding links, videos or entirely new passages. As you can see from this search for “Introductory Chemistry,” there are several different versions the text specific to different professors at different universities.

Many college students well tell you it’s very frustrating when you’re forced to purchase an expensive textbook and in the end the professor only covers a portion of it. In addition to cutting out unused material, this control allows professors to insert their own which is arguably much more valuable. Rather than filling lecture slides with notes, links to external materials and videos or images, professors can wrap all this material up in their assigned text, saving them and their students a lot of time and hassle.

The customization of texts is extremely valuable, but lets save that discussion for another review (stay tuned…). Right now we are focusing on the student experience with Flatworld Knowledge. For starters, signing up is simple and straight forward, and searching the catalog by your professor’s name, school name or course name makes finding your customized text easy. After you’ve located your text you must select what format you’d like to use.

To the delight of students everywhere, the basic digital “Free Pass” version is completely free to view through your browser. Next up is the “Study Pass” which has added features such as highlighting, note taking, interactive study tools such as flash cards and “Study View” which gives you a condensed version of key points, objectives and definitions. The most robust version is the “All Access Pass” which gives you all the features of the “Study Pass” as well as a downloadable PDF version for printing and the true eTextbook version for viewing on your iPad, Kindle, Nook or other eReader of choice.

Even the “All Access Pass” is still very inexpensive when compared even to other eTextbook retailers, let alone traditional printed textbooks. However if you just can’t study without a hard copy of the text to flip through and mark up, you can order a black and white printed and bound copy for a bit more than the “All Access Pass.” Or you can spring for the full fledged color textbook for what you’d expect to pay for a book at your school bookstore. To me it seems a bit counter intuitive to purchase a traditional textbook from an etextbook company that is offering the same material for free, but hey, some people just really need a paper version.

For me, it makes the most sense to just bookmark the free browser based version of each book assigned to you. With such a plethora of mobile devices with on board web browsers, it isn’t difficult for most students to get access to their books anywhere, anytime. Nook and Kindle users are out of luck it would seem, but if you’re packing an iPad or smart phone, your FREE textbook can be with you anytime.

The browser based reading experience is surprisingly pleasant. A sidebar of chapters and subchapters makes navigation easy, images are vivid and diagrams are easy to read. A wider view option allows near full screen viewing. I only see two major downsides to sticking with the free version. First is the lack of study tools such as highlighting, note taking and study guides. So for this you’ll have to make a personal judgement about how useful these tools are for you. The second downside is eye fatigue from prolonged use. This is a large selling point for Nook and Kindle users, and if you have one and are prone to extended studying sessions, it might be worth the $40 or so to get the digital eTextbook version.

While the Flatworld platform and unique business model are a solid foundation, their catalog is still growing. They have a good foundation of texts in different disciplines, but their biggest hurdle is adoption among professors. Being a publisher and a retailer, Flatworld must first publish high quality textbooks, then get professors to adopt them for a course, then have the infrastructure to also distribute the text to students. Competitors like Kno and Inkling need only worry about providing a platform for distributing publishing company texts that have already been adopted at schools across the country. It seems the road for Flatworld is largely up hill, but with a unique and adaptable platform such as this, a little traction can go a long way. If the circumstances are right, and adoption increases, Flatworld Kowledge has the potential to be a game changer in the textbook publishing and retail world.

eBook Review: Kno – Follow Up

We last checked in on Kno in October and if you haven’t already read the initial review, I recommend a quick return as the first review covers the general process of buying your book and accessing basic features of the Kno platform. But now it’s nine months later and as with anything in the technology world, things don’t wait for a calendar year to change before they do. So I checked back in on Kno I and found some pretty cool new features.

Pen: This new tool allows you to write your notes anywhere within the digital textbook or any PDF you add to your library. You no longer need to open a new note and type in your comments. You can circle, star, or even doodle in your eBook now. This feature is only available for Kno on iPad.


Dropbox: Easily import PDFs or other course materials directly into your course manager in the Kno library. Once imported, any digital document or PDF can take full advantage of the Kno platform. This feature is only available for Kno on iPad.


Android and Web Integration: Kno now allows you to access your course manager on iPad, Android (coming soon), and the Web. While the multiple devices are not in synch with one another, this does expand the learning environment if you head home for a weekend and forget your iPad and it surely bodes for further synching in the future.

As we get closer to back-to-school rush, I expect to see more updates from Kno and other eBook technology providers. You can always read about other eBook review, here. Stay tuned and I will keep you updated. In the meantime, stay cool.

eBook Review: Kindle

Welcome to another Textbook Guru eBook review. We’ve already taken a look at a few other platforms (Chegg, Kno, Inkling, CourseSmart and iBooks) but today we are looking at eTextbooks on the Kindle, from Amazon. Many people think of the Kindle as strictly for fiction books, which has been Amazon’s marketing angle for years. However, the Amazon library boasts an ever increasing collection of eTextbooks ranging from K-12 Chemistry books (like the one I’ve selected) all the way to college level texts.

For this review I’m using a Kindle touch 3G w/special offers which has a 6″ screen and multi-touch interface. The features vary from Kindle to Kindle, most dramatically when you jump to the Kindle Fire which has a full color display but some older models use some sort of physical keyboard for navigation rather than touch screen. The ‘special offers’ model saves you $40 off the purchase price but ‘special offers & sponsored screensavers display on Kindle Touch when you’re not reading.’ Basically you save a bit of money by agreeing to let Amazon sell your screensaver as ad space when you’re not reading.



The Kindle has made it’s claim to fame on two main features, any time 3G access to the Amazon library of eBooks and it’s revolutionary eInk/ePaper display. While you can’t use your Kindle’s 3G to surf the web, you can use it to download eBooks from the Amazon library from anywhere with cell reception. This feature is included in all Kindles and does not have an extra fee.

The technology behind the Kindle’s display is truly impressive.  The surface of the screen itself actually looks like paper and has no glare or backlight to strain your eyes. The ePaper is backed by a layer of eInk capsules which are black and will either rise up to the ePaper to display black or fall back to display white depending on the electrical charge applied to them. Essentially the display can negatively or positively charge each point on the display to make it show black or grey.

Amazon Library

Whether you’re browsing textbooks or the latest from Oprah’s book club, the Amazon Kindle library boasts over 1 million titles. You have the option to buy or rent your textbooks as long as the rental period is at least 30 days. One thing I like about rentals on the Kindle is that when your rental period is winding down, you’ll get a notification and have the option to do nothing and the book will become unavailable, extend your rental period or you can purchase the book, applying the already charged rental fee towards the total price of the book.

This method of renting seems the most convenient of the platforms I’ve reviewed so far because it is so adaptive to the way students work. For example, it’s hard to say at the start of a term how useful the required book will be or how much the professor will use it. With this method you could start with the 30 day rental and only extend it if you find you are actually using the book enough to justify it. Also, if you get into the class and realize the book isn’t useful, or you drop a class, you have 7 days to return the rental for a full refund.


My favorite feature, X-Ray, was invented by Amazon for the Kindle and is not available in any other eReader. X-Ray is a feature that “Lets customers explore the ‘bones of the book.'” With Xray you can see the definitions of important words, phrases or names and see a visual diagram of every passage that pertains to that word. In textbook this is particularly helpful for understanding core concepts, vocabulary and remembering important people and events. It is also very useful in fiction books, especially those like Game of Thrones or other fantasy novels with hundreds of characters over thousands of pages.

It also works as a sort of heat map for which topics in your book are most important to pay attention to. Like cliff notes of cliff notes, the X-Ray feature lets you see a top level view of what is important in a chapter or section and easily reference all those key vocabulary words you forgot.


Being one of the first large market eReaders, the Kindle packs all of the features we assume to be standard across all readers today. Search functionality lets you search the book for terms, search the Kindle Store for related books or search Wikipedia or the Dictionary for definitions.

You also have the ability to highlight words or passages which can be referenced later. Anchoring a note to a selected word or passage is easy, although I found typing on the Kindle to be rather difficult and slow with the ePapers slow refresh rate.

An interesting feature I haven’t seen is the ‘Share’ option which allows you to publish a selected bit of text to your connected social media accounts. This feature is probably not a big hit in textbooks, but I can see how it could be fun to share an interesting passage from a novel you’ve been reading or to brag that you were the first in your book club to finish the book of the month.

One of the hallmarks of the Kindle is how easy it is to read the ePaper display, but it can get even easier (or at least more custom) by adjusting the font settings. The Kindle offers 8 font sizes with #3 being the standard and fitting 100% of the intended words for the page.

Font size #1 fits 160% of the words while font size #8 is so large it will only fit 8% of the words, usually about half a sentence. You can also choose between three type faces, regular, condensed and sans serif depending on your preference. Adjusting spacing is also an option allowing you to choose small/medium/large spacing between lines and between words on each line.


The Kindle has a lot of great things going for it. It has an ePaper display which really does feel like you’re reading paper. It has all the standard functionality you’d expect an eReader to have, allowing you to search, change the text dynamically to your liking and highlighting and note functions for studying. Possibly most important, it has a totally free, always on 3G connection to the vast Amazon eBook library.

However, there are a few ways in which it is lacking. While the ePaper display is easy on the eyes and surprisingly can do great grey-scale images, it is not capable of some of the advanced, interactive features many eTextbooks come with today such as 3D modeling, embedded video, interactive diagrams and so on. It is a hybrid with its two feet firmly planted in the digital and print worlds.

That said, whether or not it will be useful for you boils down to personal preference. If you really love the look and feel of printed books and are skeptical about reading on an iPad for example, the Kindle is a great step in the digital direction. Not to mention your chiropractor will thank you later for not carrying around so many textbooks. On the other hand, if you’re looking for an interactive, digitally connected experience to make your boring paper textbook more interesting, there are other platforms that will serve you better.

eBook Review: iBook

Here we are, four reviews deep into the Textbook Guru eBook review series. If you’d like to take a look back at my other reviews, you can find them here: Kno, Inkling, CourseSmart, Chegg.  For our fifth review, I’ve chosen to take a look at the iBooks platform by Apple. I’ve chosen this platform for a couple reasons. First, being Apples native eBook reader, it is likely that iBooks is installed on more mobile devices that any other platform we’ve reviewed. Whether or not users are taking advantage of this pre-installed app is hard to say. Second, the iBook platform is the first in our series to allow self publishing. So whether you’re a self publishing author, or just need to have your own documents readily available, iBooks allows you to upload your own PDFs into the app.


Self publishing is a lot of fun, but lets get down to why we are really here, to review textbooks. If you’ve ever downloaded an app to your iPhone or iPad, or purchased an album on iTunes, then you are already familiar with the purchasing process in the iBooks platform.

Finding and purchasing any book only takes a few clicks (or finger taps). When searching for a textbook, you will usually have an ISBN or the full title an author, which makes searching a breeze. However, if you’re looking for more casual reading, the ‘featured’ and ‘browse’ tabs are a great way to see what kind of books (typically fiction) are popular on iBooks. But we’re after textbooks, so if you sort by category, you’ll find that all the textbooks iBooks has to offer in one place. Many of them you can ‘sample’ by downloading a free chapter to take a preview of the features.


Apple has been a big player in eBooks for a while, a market they grew quickly thanks to the iPad and iPhone apps that help you view all you iBooks on any device.  However, recently they have started getting into the eTextbook market. Studying is probably one of the last things you’d think to use an iPad for but it is increasingly becoming a platform for consuming any and all media, so why should textbooks be separate? Apple touts a lot of exciting eTextbook features that are becoming popular such as 3D models, embedded video and interactive quizzes. Lets dive in and take a look at the iBooks experience from start to finish.

The photo above is your ‘Library’ which is the central place to find all your downloaded books or documents. Foregoing a simple list, Apple has a visually simple and intuitive virtual bookshelf for your digital books. This is a small touch, and isn’t much different than Chegg or Kno which use thumbnails of your book covers as buttons, but having them organized on a bookshelf makes them feel more like real books and less like files to be opened.

Once you open a book, you have a simple and hide-able menu bar at the top of each page that contain all your tools. The first and most obvious tool is the ‘Library’ button which just takes you back to your virtual book shelf. The next is a menu to help you jump from page to page in the book without flipping. This menu lets you skip between chapters in the book and the next menu which looks like a note pad lets you jump between bookmarks and notes that you have set while reading. As simple as this kind of navigation is, I have to say Apple did well to put all these markers in one place as opposed to others that have made notes and bookmarks navigable through their own menus. Apple has also included a traditionally simple bookmark tool that is always accessible in the upper right of any page. Just tap the small greyed bookmark logo and it will be replaced with a bright red bookmark to save your place.

Next on your menu bar is your settings options, indicated by a pair of capital A’s. This pop up menu allows you to adjust the brightness of your screen through a slide bar and the size of the font through two size buttons. Again, a very simple way to do very simple things. Of course, what eBook platform would be complete without a search function? iBooks allows you to search within the text, on the web or directly through Wikipedia. I find it humorous that so many teachers have a vendetta against Wikipedia and it’s use in academia as source material, however so many search tools love to include it as a searchable reference. As controversial as Wikipedia is in the academic community, I think this is proof that it is still a valuable resource for many students.

Next lets look at the more advanced features iBooks has to offer. For starters, iBooks is only the second platform I’ve reviewed to offer 3D modeling in some of its eBooks. It’s hard to see in a still image, but the molecule below is interactive directly in the page, unlike Kno which has to open an overlay window to make models interactive.

iBooks also has embedded video and image slide shows, like in the image below. Figure 1 is an image slideshow containing 4 images (indicated by the dots below the caption). Sliding your finger across the image flips it to the next image. In the next column, Figure 2 is a playable video, a very handy way for eTextbook publishers to emphasize or further explain a complicated theory.

One of my favorite features on iBooks is one I haven’t seen anywhere else, virtual study cards. Similar to the way iBooks displays your library as a bookshelf, it displays study cards as traditional 3″x5″ note cards. These have chapter specific glossery terms on them so you can quiz yourself. Simply define each term then flip the card to see if you got it right. Swiping puts the card at the bottom of the deck and moves on to the next one.

Each section and chapter has a review section to help you remember what you learned. This is nothing new for textbooks, but many iBooks textbooks have interactive quiz questions built into these section reviews. You get to chose an answer for each question and instantly see if your correct or not. The beginning of each section also has study tools to help you generally understand what will be covered in detail in the coming section.


For the features it offers, iBooks delivers them in Apples traditionally simple yet elegant way. As a general eReader, iBooks is a solid choice and integrates easily into the lives of any iOS device owner. As a study tool for eTextbook users, I think iBooks is a great choice because it is leading the move to digital with many of the most advanced features found in eTextbooks today, but wrapped up in Apple’s intuitive and simple design. The iBooks library of eTextbooks is growing as Apple expands into this market, and chances are many of your textbooks are already available. I think it’s important to note that if you are in a communication or writing field of study, iBooks is likely to have all your assigned novels, biographys, non-fiction etc. This means that iBooks could be your central place not only for textbooks, but other assigned readings (including PDFs your tech savvy professor uploads) and any books you find time to read just for fun.

eBook Review: Chegg

Plugging along in our eBook review series we come next to Chegg is one of the biggest online textbook retailers and boasts one of the largest rental libraries available.  They are also one of the largest names in eBooks, and growing. To get up to speed on our eBook reviews, you can check out our past reviews of Kno, Inkling, and CourseSmart.

Lets get started with the purchasing process. Setting up my account took roughly 5 minutes start to finish, a new record so far. Chegg gives you the option to buy or rent physical textbooks, or to rent your eTextbook.

Just ordered the book on your first day of class and need it right away? Chegg has you covered with a free 7 day rental of the electronic version of your book while you wait for the physical version to show up. If you ask me this is a pretty smart feature for them to add. Chegg knows that students will wait until the last minute to order books and this save everyone by delivering the student a product while they wait for the physical book.

If you’ve rented an eTextbook, you have 14 days from the date of purchase to return it, which makes sense since there is no shipping period. This is the same 2 week return period offered by Kno and CourseSmart, although their rental periods vary. I have to admit it seems a bit odd to have to ‘return’ an electronic book, but with such long rental periods it may be even more odd to have need for the text after it’s been returned.

One big leg up for Chegg is that it’s platform is build on HTML 5. There are a lot of behind the scene things that make HTML5 better than HTML but the main advantage for Chegg is that you can read your eBooks from literally any device with a browser and an internet connection. No downloading apps or making sure you’re using Firefox and not Safari or Chrome since HTML 5 will display the same on any platform, which makes reading your books easy and convenient.

What Chegg doesn’t offer is offline viewing. In our modern world, this is becoming less of a set back as you can get an internet connection in more and more places, but the convenience of guaranteed access all the time is no small thing. Obviously this makes enforcing your rental time limit more difficult for Chegg, but other platforms like CourseSmart seem to do just fine with this capability. In the end though you must decide how often you’ll need access to your eBook when you don’t have an internet connection.


Chegg has many of the features we’ve come to expect from electronic books. Zoom is a handy tool and I particularly like the way they added it to the interface. Rather than a slider bar like the one standard on most programs, Chegg uses a visual button system like this.

When taking notes, Chegg uses the ever popular ‘sticky note’ visual. Your notes are attached to the page you’re viewing by placing a small yellow sticky note icon in the margin. Clicking this icon reopens the note. Bookmarking is done with one click to the bookmark button in your user interface. You can easily browse bookmarks through the ‘Go To’ button which pops up an overlay that displays all bookmarked pages as scrolling thumbnails. I like this visual way to browse your bookmarks, but it could get confusing if you bookmark heavily.
The Chegg Search bar is the most dynamic and well thought out search tool of all the eBooks so far. First, it ‘predicts’ or ‘suggests’ search terms based on what you have typed in so far, much the same way Google does. Also, instead of opening a new page or taking over your current page, the search results are displayed in a tall, narrow overlay bar that extends down from the search bar (see below). This is convenient if you are referencing the page you are on to find the right result to jump to.

Highlighting is easy as well and comes in yellow and purple colors. However Chegg knows that some people go to town on their books with a whole case of highlighters and pens, so they’ve also included the option to add green or blue dotted underlines to text. This is the first eBook I’ve tried that offers underlining in addition to highlighting, which I’m sure will really come in handy for organizationally minded students.
Another standard feature that Chegg offers is ‘Look Up’ which is basically a dictionary tool. You can select any single word from the text and look up a definition. Similar to the handy overlay for search results, your definition is returned as a small bubble that pops up next to the word, so no leaving your spot in the text.
One of the most in depth and potentially most useful features that Chegg offers is called ‘Ask a Question’ which allows you to query experts on something you don’t understand. Say you come to a passage about the Nitrogen cycle and don’t understand part of it. You can highlight the text in question and click ‘Ask a Question’ which will copy the text over into the pop up question field. Here you can type out your specific questions and submit it to Chegg and get a response from a real person who knows the subject. Chegg says questions are answered ‘usually within 2 hours’ which isn’t a bad turn around, but presumably would be longer during mid-terms and finals when question volume would be higher. Afterwards, your questions and the answers from Chegg are stored under ‘Questions and Answers’ in the upper right of your interface for reference later.
This kind of innovative feature is what makes eBooks so exciting. They are a dynamic platform that only needs to mimic the paper books they are displaying, but they are not bound by the same restrictions and this proves it. It also distinguishes Chegg from other eBook retailers by combining the book store with tutoring services. I think there is a lot of potential for Chegg to grow this part of its business by offering more in-depth tutoring as a subscription service for students looking for extra help.


I have been very impressed with the Chegg platform as a whole. Their selection is impressive, prices are on par with their competitors and the eReader interface is simple, intuitive and robust. Of all the services I’ve seen so far, Chegg seems to be the most conscious of the way students purchase and use their textbooks. Generous return policies, complimentary eBook rentals while you wait for shipped books and innovative interface features make Chegg a strong leader in the field.
With eBook services being so proprietary, it can be difficult to commit to one, but Chegg is one that I would not hesitate to jump on board with. I think if you’re looking to make the move to digital, Chegg is a strong contender to check out because they put a lot of importance on the user experience. It takes about ten minutes from the time you first hit their site to the time you’re reading your first book, and if you change your mind it’s easy to go back. Most of all though, I think Chegg is innovating the market with services like ‘Ask a Question’ and as their library and customer base grow, there’s no telling how how far they can go with their platform.

eBook Review: CourseSmart

Welcome to the next installment of the Textbook Guru’s eBook review series. Today I am taking a look at the CourseSmart eTextbook platform, but I’ve already reviewed Kno and Inkling, which you can read first if you haven’t already. My first two reviews were done using iPad apps, but CourseSmart is a little different, as you’ll see, so I am predominantly using it through my web browser.

As before, lets begin by talking about the purchasing experience, since each platform so far has had a different policy. With Kno and Inkling, each book (or chapter on Inkling) is fully purchased and yours forever (if you chose). With CourseSmart, all of their eBooks are rentals, and are disabled from your account at the end of the rental period. Renting print and eTextbooks was a hot topic at the start of this academic year as a way to save money, but some students found that because of their school schedule, they’d either have to rent the book for only part of their term, or extend into the next. With CourseSmart, nearly all of their rentals are for a 12 month period, ensuring that you’ll have plenty of time to use it.

Unlike Inkling, but similar to Kno, CourseSmart has a 14 day return policy on all their books granted you haven’t viewed or used more than 20% of the book. Of course all your books, or chapters of books, need to be ‘checked in’ before you can return it, which leads me to my next point. You can ‘check out’ sections of books, or entire books (up to 5 titles) which allows you to download them to your computer for offline reading. In my opinion this is one of the strongest features CourseSmart has to offer, since even today in the 21st century a reliable Internet connection is not always available.


Lets dive right into using the eBook. For starters, CourseSmart offers many of the tools I’ve come to expect from an eBook. For instance you can write notes that become anchored to the page they are written on. These notes are then accessible through the menu sidebar and are sorted by page number. This is pretty standard but what I found interesting is that you can also see all your notes inany book directly from you bookshelf. This would prove very handy if you take heavy notes to study from later.

Highlighting is also a standard feature, although CourseSmart only allows one color, yellow. Anything you highlight is also organized in the sidebar like your notes and you can quickly jump between important sections using this menu. Instead of being saved on your clipboard to be pasted later, when you copy text, CourseSmart pulls it out in a pop up window and converts it to plain text. As someone who prefers bulleted lists for studying instead of long passages, this would be helpful for sifting out only the important text and having it in a workable, editable format right in the eBook.

One feature I was disappointed in was the zoom tool. The other platforms I’ve seen have allowed me to zoom in and out freely on any part of the page, which was very helpful in the science texts which often have large diagrams or charts. However, when using CourseSmart on the web, the zoom tool simply toggles between normal view and a slight zoom, probably around 50% larger.

A weak zoom tool is certainly not a deal breaker, but it is more than made up for by two features CourseSmart boasts that I haven’t seen anywhere else, ‘share’ and ‘print.’ Clicking share will give you a URL to copy so you can “share this link with your instructor or classmates.” When your classmate opens the link, they are able to view the page you shared as if they were logged into your CourseSmart account. The best thing about this feature? It saves your highlights and notes from that page. This is the kind of interactive study tool I’ve been hoping to see in an eBook. Which leads me to the next great study feature.

CourseSmart allows you to print up to a 10 page passage directly from your web browser. Selecting print allows you to select a start page (defaults to the page you are currently viewing) and up to 10 pages after. Just like sharing a page through a link, this feature also preserves highlights, however notes are not printed along side it.


As I stated above, one of the most impressive features on CourseSmart is the ability to read offline. You can read any part of any book you’ve rented offline, as long as you don’t exceed 5 titles checked out at a time. Attempting to check out a 6th title will prompt you to check in one of your other books. To access your books while offline, you need to first be online. From your bookshelf you can select ‘read now’ or ‘read offline’ which will allow you to check off which chapters you want to download.

Being a big fan of Google’s web browser Chrome, I was disappointed that offline reading is only supported on Firefox version 3.6 and higher. I’ve run into this problem with other services, so I always keep Firefox on my desktop, but with so many browsers our there it seems strange to only support one. However, after you download the chapter(s), you need to bookmark the offline section by visiting Then, to access your books offline you simply open your browser, click your bookmark for offline bookshelf and all your downloaded titles are waiting for you.

Now I must admit that complaining about the offline bookshelf’s limited availability seems silly when you consider the fact that your entire online bookshelf is available through ANY web browser with an Internet connection. So for offline I’m stuck with Firefox, but for online I can read from Chrome, Safari, IE, and most importantly any mobile web browser. There are mobile apps for Android and iOS devices, but being able to read from any device that can get to the CourseSmart website seems like a pretty handy feature.

Next, it’s important to note the inclusion of ‘eResources’ with certain titles. At first glance I assumed this would be similar to that DVD in the back of your textbook that you had to pay an extra $30 for but never end up using. However, while the eResource component of CourseSmart texts delivers valuable extra features, but they are features that are already embedded in the text on other platforms. Features like online homework, quizzes and exercises, simulations and videos or links to outside websites with related content.

To me, this is sort of missing the point of an eBook. These features are separated into a companion DVD for most print textbooks because there’s no way to include that content within the book. But eBooks have no limits to the kind of content they can display which is what makes them so exciting. Being able to tap on a diagram and hear a professor explain photosynthesis, or spinning a chlorophyll molecule around in a 3D image, or opening full screen videos that literally show you how evolution works is what separates eBooks from print books. Separating these features into a seperate eResource section seems like a step backwards to me.


Overall I enjoyed using CourseSmart. They have most of the standard features you’d expect from an eBook and it was simple to use and navigate within a book. I was disappointed in the lack of multimedia features within the text, but the study features like printing and sharing are very useful and not available elsewhere. However the best part of the CourseSmart platform is the ability to read on or offline, and the variety of devices you can access your books from. Being restricted to the iPad on other platforms is like print books in that you only have the one copy, but CourseSmart is like having a copy anywhere you have an Internet connection.

Since I’ve never had to reference any of my school books after I was finished with the course, the idea of having them on a rental basis makes a lot of sense. The 12 month rental period is handy since you don’t have to worry about how your schedule matches up to the rental periods, and if it results in lower prices to purchasing the eBook outright then I’m all in. I think CourseSmart is doing a lot of things right, and they have a very solid eTextbook platform that covers all the bases, however I look forward to watching them innovate in the years to come as certain features become industry standards.

Kindles in the hands of second-graders: E-Readers for early education


Image courtesy of Engadget

 Since the dawn of the digital age we have been transitioning from old technologies and mediums to new ones. Today, everyone is heralding the demise of print: magazines, books and newspapers are increasingly being viewed online through computers, cell phones and tablets. Yet the textbook industry is stuck in the days of the printing press.

For years, we’ve heard reports on the rising costs of textbooks and the amount of strain that a backpack full of books can put on the spine of an 80lb 5th grader. But while slow, change is coming in the form of digital textbooks increasing their market share in higher education. According to a report by Dr. Robert Reynolds and Yevgeny Ioffe, digital texts currently account for .5% of the overall textbook market, but they will increase by 150-200% each year, reaching 18.8% by 2014.

One roadblock that has long stood in the way of digital textbooks is hardware. With the explosive popularity of netbooks, tablets and readers (the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and the Apple iPad) having inexpensive eBook readers is becoming less of a concern. Take for instance the Kno tablet. The first of its kind, the Kno is a 14 inch touch screen tablet specifically designed to display digital textbooks and is being marketed to college students with the slogan “with savings of 20%-50% on textbooks, the Kno pays for itself in three terms.”

And higher education isn’t the only market. K-12 teachers across the nation are putting this technology in the hands of their younger students. At Clearwater High School, in Clearwater Florida, 2,000 students received a school-furnished Amazon Kindle preloaded with all the books they would need for the semester. Students were excited about the new technology and administrators were excited about the savings. John Just, assistant superintendent for management information systems for Pinellas County schools, said that the Kindle saved the English department so much money, it was able to fulfill its wish list, getting books like Superfreakonomics and Into the Wild.

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