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Reach and Adoption of Digital Course Materials in the Evolving Higher Education Space

July 9th, 2012 by CourseSmart

The Future of Education
Recently an article (oped) on CNN.com highlighted an education experiment conducted by Sebastian Thrun of Google fame. The experiment was essentially an attempt to provide very high quality higher education at a very low cost to a wide range of participating students. The course was a grad level artificial intelligence class taught at Stanford University that was delivered over the web for free and reached 160,000 ’students’ - including the 200 Stanford attendees. This model now used by Sebastian Thrun’s website Udacity.com, by way of online delivery, while not new (see Khan academy, Coursera, the MITx project, etc.) does underscore the ability to scale higher education to a much wider audience to include students that are unable to attend the institution for a myriad of reasons – such as the cost of enrollment.

Cost considerations are not limited to those that are traditionally required to enroll in a course but also to those that are required to ensure the student is armed with the appropriate materials to help them succeed in their courses – and here is where digital course materials provide value. While open educational resources are available and other online content that may be free is at a students disposal, they don’t always provide the level of quality pedagogy that is found in course content that is developed and put through the rigorous scholarly review and editorial process found in published higher education materials.

The move to digital course materials is also driven by the same attention to cost to the student where the digital versions are much lower cost and can scale to be available to an almost limitless number of users. Marrying the new and creative methods for delivering quality higher education to a much wider pool of students with digital course materials that can greatly (and arguably better) assist the learner in grasping content and promote better learning outcomes is something that definitely has a place in the evolving higher education space and CourseSmart is excited about taking a leadership role in this evolution.

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Higher Education Faculty Members: Skeptical Innovators

July 1st, 2012 by CourseSmart

Faculty and Online Education, 2012

Faculty don’t dig online learning. So concludes the recently-published Inside Higher Ed article examining faculty attitudes about the quality of online learning. According to the Babson Survey Research Group, which conducted the surveys summarized in the article, a meager 6% of faculty members consider online learning outcomes to be superior to those achieved through face-to-face instruction.

Given the fact that my career depends almost entirely on faculty adoption of digital course materials, this is a troublesome statistic indeed. I suppose I should throw up my hands and move into a field with a more appreciative audience. However, I happen to quite like my job, so before I jump ship, I would like to reexamine the conclusions drawn by the study.

Maybe 6% isn’t so bad after all. Consider for a moment the history of that little device that we have all come to know and love: the iPad. In March of 2010, the world seemed to be humming along just fine. People toted around their behemoth six-pound personal computers, and waved off marketers’ attempts to interest them in the “tablet” models introduced by Microsoft in 2001. Despite bold predictions for immediate adoption, by 2007, only 1.2% of PC sales were from tablets.

Amusing skepticism dominated the press: Wired magazine quoted a reporter as saying, “My PDA annoys the hell out of me, but it fits in my pocket. I suspect the Tablet will annoy me just as much, and will also annoy me further when I have to lug its bulky butt around town.” And then, on April 3, 2010, Apple launched the iPad, and we all got on board.

Progress happens in fits and starts, and it is difficult to predict when the next revolution will occur. Before online learning becomes a truly accepted method of instruction, technology and training will need to make some serious headway. However, considering that only 1.2% of the population was interested in tablets before the iPad, 6% isn’t such a bad start for online learning, right?

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CourseSmart at APSCU

June 21st, 2012 by CourseSmart

apscu
Ah Southwest Airlines…you may not be glamorous, but gosh darn it you are delightfully average. I am currently 10,000 feet in the air, happily snuggled in with my fellow passengers. Though travel isn’t for everyone, I honestly love every part of it: the lines, the turbulence, the “menu” card in the seat pocket (am I the only person who reads through it every time I get on a plane, expecting that maybe this will be the flight when they finally decide to offer fois gras and chocolate truffles in lieu of Nabisco® selections?).
I am incredibly lucky to have a job that offers me the opportunity to travel so frequently, often to places that I have never been before. In fact, remarkably, this will be my first trip to Las Vegas. CourseSmart is exhibiting at the APSCU Convention & Expo, an annual meeting of more than 1,500 members of the private, proprietary higher education sector. We are in Booth #724, and – warning: shameless plug – are excited to host an iPad giveaway!
For those of you that are attending the conference, stop by our booth with your business card and a CourseSmart screen cleaner (conveniently stocked at the collateral stands by the registration desks) in order to enter for a chance to win.
For those of you that are not attending the conference, wish me luck on my first trip to Vegas! I have heard that what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, but I am concerned about the possibility that what happens in Vegas will stay on Facebook and squelch my dreams of making it to the Oval Office. Oh well, I’ll take a Southwest flight over Air Force One any day.

-Nani Jansen, CourseSmart Events Coordinator

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CourseSmart: An Accessible Textbook Solution

June 19th, 2012 by CourseSmart

This blog post was written by Alena Roberts, a graduate student with a print disability, who successfully uses CourseSmart to read her course materials.

alena-roberts

I remember making the transition to audio books from print books my senior year in high school. I was grateful to have my books in a format that was accessible to me, but reading textbooks on tape was extremely inefficient. I was hoping that by the time I finished college there would be a better solution, but sadly even in 2004 I was stuck fighting with my books on tape. This month I start graduate school, and I’m happy to report that books on tape are a thing of the past, and thanks to companies like CourseSmart, so is the struggle to find textbooks in an accessible format.

For most students finding their textbooks usually involves a trip to the school bookstore or a simple search for them on the web. This isn’t the case for students with print disabilities. If I bought my textbook from the bookstore it would be useless to me. During my undergrad, I needed weeks or months of advanced notice on what books I would need to make sure that either Recording for the Blind and Dyslexic had them or that my school’s disability services center could record them. Now that books are in digital format, students with disabilities still need advance notice, but their chances of having the book in accessible format is much higher. There are obviously still exceptions to this rule, but there may come a day when all textbooks are easily accessed by people with print disabilities.

CourseSmart is doing what they can to be a part of the solution. The website is a database of thousands of textbooks and thanks to their accessible reader, these textbooks are usable by students with print disabilities on a variety of platforms including PC and iOS. Students with disabilities need only to ask the company once to turn on the accessible reader and from then on it’s attached to your account. CourseSmart allows you to rent books for a fraction of what it would cost to buy them. They even have the books tagged to help make navigation easier, and if a book isn’t tagged you can request that tags be added.

There are numerous reasons why textbooks being available in electronic format is so beneficial to those of us with print disabilities. For one, many of them can be read on a braille display so if braille is the preferred medium then thousands of dollars don’t have to be spent to print the book in braille. Digital books have navigation tags that allow us to jump to parts of the books whether it be by page, heading, or even paragraph. No longer do we have to hit fast forward or rewind and hope that the person recording the book remembered to put a beep for every page. Nor do we have to hunt for a specific page number. Finally, having our books available on devices such as the iPhone means we aren’t carrying heavy equipment with us everywhere we go.

Thanks, Alena!

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Reading Offline with CourseSmart: Major Improvements

May 23rd, 2012 by CourseSmart

Earlier this year, CourseSmart launched a new online Reader with significant improvements in three primary areas: Overall User Experience, Tools and Viewing Options.

Beginning this week, you will find the same enhancements in the offline reader that you’ve already enjoyed reading online. This means that even if you don’t have an internet connection, you can still access the chapters you want to read. Great news, right?

Here are the enhancements we’ve made to our Offline Reader:
• Overall User Experience
o Faster checkout
o Faster downloading times
o Streamlined navigation
o Updated look and feel
• Tools
o Notes Management: View all notes, highlights and annotations at one time through the My Notes tab; apply text formatting (font and size) to notes; assign notes to highlighted text; reveal content of notes within the context of a page
o Highlighting: Activate highlighting function with a single click, add notes to highlighted text, and easy navigation to highlighted pages
o Bookmarking: Navigate to bookmark location with a single click, create bookmarks for specific pages
o Copy and Paste: Basic copy and paste without the need for an interstitial dialog box
o Search: Navigate between search results and book contents, view page content alongside the search results through the Search-In-Book function
• Viewing Options
o Multi-level Zoom: Scale images and graphics to any size
o Full Page Spread: A side-by-side page view to view pages in “2-up” mode
o Continuous Scrolling: View pages in continuous “scrolling” mode
o Thumbnail View: View small thumbnail images of many pages, and click on a thumbnail to navigate to that page

Here’s a step-by-step video on how to read offline:

We hope you enjoy these improvements! As you know, one of CourseSmart’s core values is to provide the best possible experience to our consumers. That being said, we will continue to make improvements to our reading experiences, both online and offline.

CourseSmart at WCET Leadership Summit

May 10th, 2012 by CourseSmart

WCET Leadership Summit“Education is our civil religion; if we fail at that, we fail at everything.” Powerful words on the second day of the WCET Leadership Summit, spoken by Kaye Howe of the National Science Digital Library, who happens to be sitting next to me right now, unaware of my plans to immortalize her words in the blogosphere.

With the threat of “failing at everything” looming over our heads, the time has come to reconsider how we think about education. Some argue that strict standards and pre-set curricula are key, but I take a different standpoint: throw them all out. Standards limit innovation. Today’s rapidly changing technological landscape gives students and educators tools that make traditional textbooks seem woefully inadequate. I would urge legislators to trust in the abilities of our teachers, not to rein them in with a laundry list of outcomes that take up the vast majority of the year.

The institutions represented at the WCET Leadership Summit have embraced a remarkable variety of educational models. They understand that the educational world as we know it is on the cusp of a revolution, and are determined not to be left behind, and in many cases are leading the charge toward this new learning ecosystem.

CourseSmart is sponsoring this summit, a gathering of 90 remarkably high-caliber members of the higher education community. I have been furiously taking notes in each of the sessions, drinking in all of the conversations about digital learning content creation, publication, maintenance and adoption. WCET has a wonderful job of hosting an incredibly smart, opinionated, even feisty group of people, and I look forward to seeing what real solutions come out of it.

- Nani Jansen, CourseSmart Events Coordinator

The Digital Backpack

May 2nd, 2012 by CourseSmart

London Book Fair

Last week London was abuzz as the publishing world descended on Earl’s Court for the annual London Book Fair. Over the course of the three day event, publishers worked to tout their books, secure the next big deal and debate “hot topics” like digital, which has generated a lot of interest and highlighted the need for publishers to really think about the web, apps, devices and social media.

Amongst the chatter of the book fair, I read a piece by a journalist who said that whilst publishers have embraced simple text-based eBooks, few are ready to back anything more complex as it requires significant investment. In my opinion, that view isn’t entirely correct. We’re in a perfect storm of innovation, and I believe the publishing industry has responded magnificently. Just look at the partnership between Cengage Learning, Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Wiley who set up CourseSmart; the world’s largest provider of eTextbooks and digital course materials. On Monday, at the book fair, these publishers were on hand when CourseSmart’s expansion into the UK and Europe was announced with its online eCommerce platform. Not really a sign of publishers not wanting to back anything more complex, is it?

eTexbooks and the rise of the digital backpack

Not long ago pencils, notebooks and print textbooks reigned supreme as classroom necessities, and are still a recent memory for most of us with Gen X and Y still suffering from the memories of lugging around heavy, textbook filled backpacks. Today, the higher education landscape and student experience is dramatically different as eTextbooks gain momentum and students acquire themselves a digital backpack. Thanks to significant innovation in technology, digital course materials, and the proliferation of mobile devices, today’s digital natives are in a position to benefit from an enhanced, streamlined and superior approach to learning.

Students are not only embracing digital devices - including eReaders, smartphones and laptop computers - they are completely dependent on them and eTextbooks open up a whole new world for those students. Student respondents indicated that they used an average of three different digital devices on a daily basis, and 38% of the students surveyed said that they could not go more than 10 minutes without checking one (or more) of their digital devices. The proliferation of smartphones has led students to expect instant access to everything and anything, including their course materials.

Due to their flexibility and anytime, anywhere access, eTextbooks have become an attractive option for many students that frequently have to fit studying in between their other responsibilities such as work and internships. Three-quarters (73%) of students indicated they bring their textbooks with them “on the go” and nearly half (48%) of all students who own a tech device frequently read eTextbooks. With university fees set to rise, and the hassle of reselling your second hand books for next to nothing, the cost of eTextbooks is another factor attracting students, allowing them to save up to 40% on textbook costs by renting them online.

Thanks to the rise of eTextbooks, higher education students can now truly have a digital backpack. Additionally, by utilising eResource materials that provide interactive, assessment-based course materials, students can take quizzes and self-assessments in the palm of their hands. These new technologies and advanced learning resources allow students to study more efficiently and effectively, resulting in an enhanced learning experience that was not possible a decade ago.

Looking forward, this is an incredibly exciting time for both the higher education and publishing sectors. So, come September as students prepare for their new academic year don’t be surprised if you see students walking a little taller with their digital backpack in tow.

Fionnuala Duggan, Managing Director for International at CourseSmart

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Evaluation Made Easy for Instructors

April 4th, 2012 by CourseSmart

Compare Side-By-Side eTextbooks

Compare Side-By-Side eTextbooks

Attention Instructors: Did you know that CourseSmart has a new Table of Contents side-by-side comparison feature? Long over are the days when you had to set two or more print textbooks side-by-side and compare TOC’s. CourseSmart makes comparison easy, by allowing you to pull up one etextbook from “Publisher A” alongside another etextbook from “Publisher B.” You can see in one view which order of information you prefer for your teaching methods, thus allowing you to make an informed etextbook decision for your class.
CourseSmart has over 20,000 digital etextbooks in our arsenal, and over 90% of the core textbooks used in Higher Education today. That means the liklihood that we have the eTextbook you’re looking for is quite high.
To use this feature, search for a textbook you’re interested in viewing. Then, click the “compare” button. Next, use the search button to locate a title to compare. The description for both books and the Table of Contents for both books are now side-by-side for you to see.
Making eTextbook adoption decisions has never been easier. To see this new feature in action, here’s a short YouTube video:

Video on Side-By-Side TOC Comparison

Enjoy!

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CourseSmart at CAMEX

March 5th, 2012 by CourseSmart

CAMEX CourseSmart Booth

CAMEX CourseSmart Booth

The National Association of College Stores is hosting its annual Campus Market Expo (CAMEX) in Salt Lake City this week, and CourseSmart is exhibiting alongside nearly 700 vendors seeking to get their wares into college bookstores across the country. Our booth (#6553 – come see us!) makes us the proud owners of 0.071% of the sprawling trade show floor, and we intend to make the most of our modest square footage.

Both on the floor and in the conference sessions, there have been fascinating conversations about the future of the campus bookstore. Bookstore-related jargon is circulating, and no buzz-word intrigues me more than “click-and-mortar,” which I heard today. Is there anything more satisfying than a mash-up word that is witty AND relevant? I can’t think of a better way to describe the next generation of bookstores, who exist in a market that now encompasses a confusing jumble of print and digital options. It’s no secret that the days of simple print texts are a thing of the past, and consumers are demanding choice.

This year, stores seem genuinely interested in getting more involved in the world of digital content, and we are so excited to partner with them in offering students options!

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Does Your Major Matter?

February 16th, 2012 by CourseSmart

Should I frame my diploma? When did the whole cap and gown tradition start? Is this graduation speaker going to wrap it up already?
"Now what?"

A lot of things go through your mind as you wait to cross the stage at college graduation. One that can stir up fear, however, is “Am I going to get a job with this major?”
In an Read the rest of this entry …

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