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Archive for March, 2011

Short-Sighted Folly or Solving Real Problems?

March 29th, 2011 by CourseSmart

CourseSmart was likened to a “short-sighted folly” in an article I read the other day, which left us wondering if the problem we are trying to solve in U.S. Higher Education is really understood by all.


There are many issues in Higher Education today. Ensuring what occurs in the classroom has a positive impact upon students is clearly a top priority, and the publishers that support CourseSmart produce many highly engaging learning products that make faculty teaching more effective and student learning more engaging. These products are highly interactive and provide immediate feedback to the student. Examples of these products are the MyLab series from Pearson, the Wiley+ series from John Wiley, Cengage Course and McGraw-Hill Connect. All these products can be purchased at CourseSmart and accessed online through our Student Bookshelf.


There are other areas in Higher Education that need work as well. Unfortunately, students often can’t find the right materials from a reliable retail source. Many times, these materials are unaffordable for some students. According to Student Monitor, for example, as much as 15% of all students do not buy the course materials required for class, with the most cited reason being cost.


CourseSmart’s mission is to increase access to education by connecting content creators with content users in the digital world.  In order to fulfill our mission, we want to impact every student’s life—not just the lives of a few. We want to make sure that their course materials are affordable, which is why our eTextbooks are often 60% less expensive than print textbooks. In addition, CourseSmart carries a catalog of more than 20,000 items, both eTextbooks and the highly innovative products from our publishers that were mentioned above, which can be accessed on any device a student chooses to use. A student can purchase their Algebra textbook from CourseSmart and also secure access to the MyMathLab product that accompanies the textbook all in one discounted purchase and from one digital bookshelf with one log-in, no matter what device they are using: A truly “digital back pack.”


Finally, many students are not able to use print products because of print-related disabilities such as no or low sight or other disabilities that limit access when materials are in print. CourseSmart eTextbooks are WCAG 2.0 A conformant, and we are approaching AA status. This means that students with disabilities can use our content with their normal assistive technologies, significantly increasing their ability to take advantage of the cost savings, convenience and digital benefits of our extensive library of accessible course materials. We have increased access to education for these students.


As you may have noticed, I have not said that we are an eTextbook publisher. Many people confuse us with that. What we really are is a single point of review, purchase and access for tens of thousands of the best digital Higher Education course materials in the world. We have saved students more than $40 million in materials costs since our inception in 2007. We have helped countless students in distance learning programs who might not have had ready access to a place to buy their materials. We have helped improve learning outcomes by making sure that our inventory includes not just eTextbooks but also the best course materials and interactive learning products produced by our publishers. We have helped disabled students gain access to materials that were, at best, difficult to access in the past.


We do not believe that the mission we have of increasing access to education for students through greater choice, more affordability and greater access is folly. I think it’s safe to say that the 1.3 million faculty members, hundreds of thousands of students and institutional partners that use our inventory and platform don’t believe so either.


Sean Devine

CEO, CourseSmart

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Libraries and E-books: Destined to be Frenemies?

March 24th, 2011 by CourseSmart

This last week we’ve seen a lot of news coverage as libraries and publishers struggle over e-book offerings in public libraries, particularly as it relates limitations on e-book rentals that result in libraries repurchasing materials when borrowing limits have been reached. Both sides’ present valid points for justifying their position, but ultimately only one will prevail.

To understand this struggle let’s first take a look at how libraries circulate e-books. Many larger public libraries, like the New York Public Library have websites dedicated to borrowing digital materials from e-books to music and videos. Much like browsing an online bookstore, virtual library branches allow users to check out and download books using their library card information. Digital materials from a virtual branch automatically expire after the due date, so the borrower can no longer access the materials on their device. The latest struggle has developed out of one publisher wanting to impose use, or download, limitations on e-books, while libraries feel they should pay once for unlimited use similar to purchasing print books for circulation.

Libraries argue that consistent with print versions of books, an initial purchase is made and the library then owns that material and can circulate it for the life of the book. Borrowing limitations imposed on libraries by one publisher result in e-books only being available for about one year. After the borrowing limit is reached the library must repurchase the e-book to put it back into circulation. Repurchasing an e-book seems erroneous, and not entirely feasible for an institution that relies on state and federal funding, and public donations especially considering a bestseller could be circulated hundreds, thousands or even tens of thousands of times over its unlimited lifespan.

The publisher leading the firestorm over e-book limitations insists that its library purchase policies are outdated, and must be updated as the popularity of e-books grows. Other publishers are concerned e-book rentals will divert consumers away from e-book retail purchases, and accordingly, do not offer e-books. And still more publishers continue to offer e-books to libraries without seeing an immediate need to alter the current pricing policy.

The emergence of intangible, intellectual property raises a lot of questions, and as we’ve seen in this debate over e-book restrictions, poses new problems for publishers and libraries. What do you think is a fair resolution to this problem? Do the same rules apply to both print and e-books?

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ASU partners with CourseSmart bringing faculty access to digital course materials

March 17th, 2011 by CourseSmart

Integration with ASU’s Information Portal Speeds Materials Evaluation, Promotes Compliance with HEOA and Lowers Costs for Both the University and its Students

CourseSmart, the world’s largest provider of eTextbooks and digital course materials, today announced that Arizona State University (ASU) has adopted CourseSmart’s Faculty Instant Access program in support of ASU’s efforts to meet selection timeliness and transparency standards in course materials selection as stipulated in the Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA). Through this secure information portal integration, ASU’s faculty now have real-time, on-demand access to CourseSmart’s entire catalogue of eTextbooks and digital resources, representing over 90% of core higher education textbooks in use today. Using CourseSmart’s Faculty Instant Access, ASU faculty can immediately review course materials to determine their appropriateness for course use without waiting for print copy delivery. Unlike print books, faculty can compare multiple versions of textbooks online using the features of the CourseSmart eTextbook Reader such as cross-book searching, note taking and highlighting. Furthermore, a custom-developed reader through its downloadable Mac and Windows version addresses the latest accessibility standards, ensuring that any users with vision-related disabilities may take advantage of the Faculty Instant Access program.

Significantly augmenting the course materials evaluation-to-selection process, which can be time consuming and costly due to print text shipping fees and wait times, ASU faculty members can now order any CourseSmart eTextbook via the university’s information portal, My ASU, and gain instant, free access to an unlimited number of materials for review. Students can then purchase the selected eTextbook(s) or other digital course material, such as a study guide, through CourseSmart at up to 60% off the price of traditional print texts. Both faculty and students can access CourseSmart’s eTextbooks from any computer, laptop, browser-based mobile device, as well as the free CourseSmart iPhone or iPad apps, available here:

“Streamlining the materials review process for ASU’s faculty and ensuring full compliance with HEOA is a priority for ASU,” said Leah Lommel, senior director of development, Arizona State University. “The instant access program provides our faculty with versatile options to review course materials. Moving to more electronic materials is a more sustainable option versus receiving hard copy materials for selection.”

“Establishing seamless integration for faculty instant access has transformed institutions’ potential for working with digital course materials. With the ability to evaluate innumerable eTextbooks and eResources in the cloud, the overall selection process timeline has diminished drastically,” said Sean Devine, chief executive officer, CourseSmart.  

CourseSmart’s advanced integration capabilities leverage IMS Global Learning Consortium’s compliance standards to provide ASU with secure, yet flexible cloud-based access to the largest selection of eTextbooks and digital course materials available on the market. Last year, CourseSmart became the first eTextbook provider to receive “Basic LTI v1.0 Compliant” status from IMS, creating ease of integration into campus systems such as the LMSs and SISs. Institutions are able to integrate the CourseSmart catalog into faculty workflows with a minimal level of effort.

CourseSmart boasts the world’s largest catalogue of digital course materials, as well as the following eTextbook benefits:  

  • Anytime, anywhere access to materials via or through various mobile devices and tablets, including the iPhone and iPad;
  • Search function for topics within a single book or across an entire eTextbook stack;
  • Highlighting and note-taking capabilities within the eTextbook, which can be easily recalled or searched;
  • Page fidelity and preservation, mirroring the print edition’s page numbers, full text, diagrams, illustrations and charts;
  • Ability to cut and paste as well as email sections, notes and highlighted text;
  • The choice to print only what one needs;
  • Savings of up to 60% for students; and
  • 80% of CourseSmart’s top selling titles have been optimized to be more accessible for students and instructors with print-related disabilities.


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CourseSmart Partners with University of Michigan

March 8th, 2011 by CourseSmart

Students and Faculty will have Seamless Access to their Assigned Digital Course Materials through University’s Sakai-based Learning Management System

SAN MATEO, Calif., March 8, 2011 — CourseSmart, the world’s largest provider of eTextbooks and digital course materials, today announced that the University of Michigan will be testing eTextbooks as a means to improving student performance by integrating eTextbooks directly into the workspace that students use to take their course. The pilot program will integrate CourseSmart’s eTextbooks with all other course materials within their existing campus Learning Management System, cTools, allowing faculty and students the ability to conveniently access everything they need for their course in one place.

Creating a single education work-flow, the Spring pilot program includes five courses/instructors and nearly 200 students who can now use cTools, the University’s Sakai-based LMS, to access their eTextbooks as well as course assignments, homework, syllabus, class calendar and instructor/peer communications.

“As a large, forward-thinking public university, we continue to look for new ways to improve the learning environment for our faculty and students,” said Susan Hollar, Curriculum Integration Coordinator for the University of Michigan Library. “We are evaluating the pilot program and will make recommendations regarding campus directions for e-textbooks. We want to help our campus make informed decisions about new technology tools.”

In addition to providing University of Michigan with eTextbooks and digital course materials, CourseSmart handled the technical integration and distribution of the program. Using an LTI standards-based integration, the university will enjoy a single sign-on process that integrates the prepopulated eTextbook bookshelf directly into the campus LMS.

“Since CourseSmart has adopted Basic LTI as a standard for operating with platforms like the Sakai LMS, integration was able to be accomplished with minimal effort on both sides,” said Chuck Severance, Clinical Associate Professor, School of Information at the University of Michigan. “We value partners who are able to take a standards-based approach which enables us to produce desired results with minimal investments.”

“CourseSmart is quickly becoming the industry leader in LTI-based systems integration as universities across the country continue to realize the significant benefits of incorporating eTextbooks into their learning management systems,” said Sean Devine, CEO of CourseSmart. “University of Michigan is a great example of the campus innovation that is taking place nationwide as students and faculty continue to demand an integrated workflow and take advantage of the savings, convenience and efficiencies of eTextbooks.”

CourseSmart offers the world’s largest catalogue of digital course materials, as well as the following eTextbook benefits:  

  • Anytime, anywhere access to materials via or through any web-enabled mobile device or tablet, including specific Apps for the iPhone and iPad;
  • Search function for topics within a single book or across an entire eTextbook stack;
  • Highlighting and note-taking capabilities within the eTextbook, which can be easily recalled or searched;
  • Page fidelity and preservation, mirroring the print edition’s page numbers, full text, diagrams, illustrations and charts;
  • Ability to cut and paste as well as email sections, notes and highlighted text;
  • The choice to print only what one needs;
  • Savings of up to 60% for students; and
  • 80% of CourseSmart’s top selling titles have been optimized to be more accessible for students and instructors with print-related disabilities.

 For more information, visit, and click the Institutions link.

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Is Your Social Media Profile a Liability?

March 4th, 2011 by CourseSmart

Huffington Post College recently reported on a Kaplan survey that found more than 80% of college admissions officers used social networking profiles when considering applicants. If students ever needed more proof that their social media presence could affect them in a positive or negative way, this is it!

Most high school and college students are quick to point out their profile privacy settings prevent any questionable content from reaching the eyes of future employers, college admissions officers, or worse, their parents. But, is completely isolating your profile from public view in a students’ best interest? With the newest round of changes to sites like Facebook, a students’ social media profile can be an asset rather than a liability.

In its latest round of updates, Facebook enhanced users’ ability to create pages that function more like a personal profile. How does that affect the average student? Any user can now create a page that can serve as a public professional profile, keeping their personal profile visible only to friends. By creating a personal page, students can use status updates and wall posts to showcase, interests and hobbies, volunteer work, or share content that is relevant to their area of study. A page can now “like” other pages, allowing students to “like” and showcase their favorite schools, membership to professional organizations, and even brands or companies they love. Students, especially arts majors, can use page elements like the photos banner and albums to showcase their creativity, making the page an interactive portfolio. Much like the info section on a personal profile, the page info section can feature educational experience, internship information or anything that might be of importance to whomever will be viewing the page. Making a Facebook page an extension of a resume or college admissions essay, could prove to be a valuable piece of gaining admissions or getting that dream job.

Need some creative inspiration for making a professional Facebook page? Check out some cool uses on

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Are Students the Key to Digital Course Material Adoption?

March 1st, 2011 by CourseSmart

In mid February, reported on the release of the 2011 report “Instructors and Students: Technology Use, Engagement and Learning Outcomes.” The survey, administered to both students and instructors revealed key points in opinions on the role of technology in the educational process.


Of the students surveyed, 86% agreed that their level of engagement in a course increased as the use of digital tools increased, and 67% of students preferred courses that integrated digital tools. While the use of these tools had little impact on external disruptions (e.g. working full-time, caring for families) digital tools helped students be more prepared for class and even helped them overcome aversions to using technology. Survey results from instructors showed a similarly positive sentiment regarding technology with 58% stating they believed technology had a positive impact on student engagement in the classroom, and an equal percentage matching students’ opinions of preference for courses in which technology could be used in the classroom. Additionally, 71% of instructors reported that the use of technology is a vital component in a course and has a highly positive impact on student learning. With this evidence that use of digital course tools are preferred by both students and instructors, and belief that these tools positively impact learning, the lack of adoption seems to be a non-sequitur.


Just today, John K. Waters reported for new data and predictions of what seems to be sluggish growth in the adoption of etextbooks when compared to the growth in the availability of e-books. Currently, only 8% of students purchase etextbooks and roughly the same percentage access digital course materials. The National Association of College Stores makes the promising prediction that etextbooks sales will increase to between 10-15% by 2012. For etextbook publishers and providers like your friends at CourseSmart, this growth is a step in the right direction. But as quoted by Waters, Vineet Madan, the vice president of strategy and business development in McGraw Hill’s Higher Education group believes while “academic publishing is slower to change, so is the market we serve.”


Superficially, it appears the students much be the impetus for change to a technology filled educational experience. Alas, what can be made of the gap between students’ preference for integrated technology and purchase of digital course tools? Will the cliché “where there’s a will there’s a way” ring true?

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