Today CourseSmart® announced the beta launch of its newest reader platform providing users with online, offline, anything, anywhere access to their eTextbooks. The first in the industry to utilize HTML5 technology for eTextbooks and coupled with the latest version of Mozilla Firefox 5.0, this cloud-based offering now provides the same productivity features whether users are online or offline.
“CourseSmart’s use of ground-breaking technology and our innovative approach further demonstrates the company’s commitment to providing students and faculty with extraordinary access to affordable, outcome-oriented digital course materials,” said Sean Devine, CEO at CourseSmart. “Eliminating the necessity for users to make a choice between online and offline access is a significant step forward in our goal of providing students and faculty access to digital course materials from any device, anywhere.”
Students who have active online eTextbook digital rental access will immediately enjoy the benefits of the new offline capabilities. Additionally, instructor textbook evaluation services will also be available on the new reader platform, allowing instructors free access to evaluate more than 90 percent of all core higher education eTextbooks whether online or offline. The new reader experience also extends to CourseSmart’s productivity tools allowing users to highlight, search, copy, paste, take notes, share and print while offline. The platform synchronizes user notes across all modals, whether it is from their desktop computer, laptop, iPad®, iPhone®, iPod Touch®, Android™-based device, or any Web-enabled device.
CourseSmart, the world’s largest provider of eTextbooks and digital course materials, further expanded its mobile footprint today with the launch of CourseSmart for Android 1.0, a mobile application specifically designed for the Android Operating System (AOS). Students and faculty across the country can now access all of their eTextbooks on their AOS-enabled smart phones, netbooks and tablets.
“Increasing demand for mobile access to eTextbooks coupled with the exponential growth of Android-run devices has led to record numbers of students and faculty embracing mobile devices across their institutions,” said Sean Devine, CEO of CourseSmart. “The Android application is another example of the importance of our device-agnostic mobile strategy, ensuring all students and faculty can enjoy a superior eTextbook experience on devices they choose to own.”
CourseSmart for Android 1.0 leverages the unique capabilities of the devices running the AOS to provide a truly advanced eTextbook experience, including the ability to:
Search for a topic within a single book or across an entire eTextbook stack and access the table of contents;
Zoom in on text and graphs;
Scroll through or jump to individual pages;
Read eTextbooks in landscape or portrait mode;
View, add and edit text notes.
Enjoy anytime, anywhere access to 90 percent of all core higher education textbooks in use today; and
Shop for additional books at up to 60 percent off using a specialized AOS version of CourseSmart’s website
Compatible with the most popular Android-run devices, including the Motorola Droid, Samsung Fascinate, HTC Droid Incredible, HTC Droid Eris, HTC myTouch 3G Slider, HTC Evo and Samsung Galaxy 7, the first Android tablet, the application has been extensively tested by students and faculty prior to release.
“The App was very easy to use and figure out. The layout and organization was well thought out and simple. I love that I can now access my books from anywhere,” said Carlisa Mikels, Bachelor of Science in Psychology Candidate at the University of Houston-Victoria.
“Knowing that the App is built for phones and tablets, I was impressed. It was easier to select books, and they displayed nicely in the Galaxy Tab,” said Pete Rottier, Center for eLearning Instructor at Cleveland State University.
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.
Since the first introduction of digital course materials, the subject of whether these materials have actually helped students learn better has been hotly debated. In the past two decades, digital course materials have changed significantly, leaving researchers, professors and even students wondering whether digital course materials and etextbooks were worth the investment in changing curriculum and bringing more technology into the classroom. Though there hasn’t been nearly enough time to develop comprehensive studies on students who use the newest forms of etextbooks and digital course materials available on mobile devices, some recent studies are shedding some light on the effectiveness of these materials at helping students learn and retain knowledge.
In 2003, a study of college-level biology students given access to a CD-Rom lab manual that included videos, animations and tips determined that students who used the CD-Rom based materials did not show increases in content mastery or assessment scores. Fast forward to a study conducted from 2009-10 where a group of college students who were given access to online digital course materials showed a marked increase in assessment scores. In both studies, students’ access to digital course materials was supplemental to traditional classroom instruction. While the results of these two studies fall at both ends of the spectrum, it’s important to note the drastic change in how the course materials were delivered to the students. Though the former study took place only 7 seemingly short years ago, the difference in technology available to students today is light years ahead. In 2003, students who participated in the study commented that they did have computers at home, but failed to note if these computers were portable allowing students’ access to the enhanced course material while in the classroom. Nowadays, it’s not uncommon to see students in class following along with a laptop or iPad, giving them increased access to digital course materials while in the classroom. It’s possible that the advances in technology and the general availability and mobility of that technology had a significant impact on the results of both studies.
These recent advances in technology, particularly mobile devices, along with the results of the 2009-10 study draw some promising conclusions about the future of digital course materials in the classroom and their ability to augment the student learning experience. Providing additional insight, students in an 8th grade algebra class in Riverside, California comment on the usefulness of having digital course materials available to them in the classroom. Students who might normally have struggled with complex equations are given additional resources to help solve problems, and are able to work at their own pace, creating an experience that lends to their learning.
Hopefully, future studies on student use of digital course materials will shed more light on the effectiveness of the tools at increasing learning in students at all levels. Until then, it will be in the hands of the instructors and the school districts to determine if digital course materials are right for their student populations and are effective in increasing learning both inside and outside of the classroom.