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Study Smarter on Smartphones & Tablets

January 8th, 2013 by Brady

I love the tingling energy in the air during January class starts. No. I’m not talking about the static build up from that new wool sweater.

It is the silly stories we share from winter break, the new plans we make with friends, and the inevitable comparison of gifts received (or that we purchased for ourselves).

If those gifts included an iPad, iPhone, Android device, Kindle Fire or Nook tablet… CourseSmart’s reader team has another present for you.

CourseSmart Mobile Reader on Google's Nexus 7 tablet

CourseSmart Mobile Reader on Google's Nexus 7 tablet

In December, we quietly improved  CourseSmart’s browser based reader. When accessed on these devices, CourseSmart’s reader will adapt to maximize screen real estate and support common multi-touch gestures like pinch to zoom, swipe to previous or next page, and press to select text to highlight or copy.

Yes. The highlights from your laptop or desktop study sessions will be visible on your smartphone or tablet’s browser.  And, yes. New highlights you make on these mobile devices will be available when you sign in on your laptop or desktop.

Details were announced today at the Consumer Electronic Show. More information is available online at

Why did we make the browser based reading experience better for mobile devices? Why not focus on the apps available for download from the iTunes App Store or Google Play market?

True. We recently exceeded a half million downloads for our Android, iPhone and iPad applications. However, lots of students and instructors prefer the convenience of CourseSmart’s browser based reading experience.

Smartphones and tablets represented 10.5% of all traffic to CourseSmart’s website in Fall 2012 (up from 5.9% in Fall 2011). That’s over 3.5 million mobile visits — a 5.5x annual increase.

We also realized that there are more than 700 different smartphone and tablet screen types that visit our site each year. Based on announcements at the Consumer Electronics Show, I’m sure we’ll see many more in 2013.

For the computer science majors reading this post, CourseSmart’s mobile reading experience is based on our traditional laptop and desktop code line. We use responsive design techniques to detect operating system as well as screen size, orientation and pixel density. Elastic layouts  are implemented with Cascading Style Sheet (CSS) media queries to maximize screen real estate. And, our specially tuned JavaScript engine does the heavy lifting to support multi-touch gestures.

For the rest of us, the improvements are simply magical.

Stay tuned for more news about our mobile reader.  Throughout 2013, the reader team will apply lessons learned from this project to CourseSmart’s Android and iOS applications. In the interim, let us know what you think of our browser based reader on your favorite mobile device.

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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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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


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CourseSmart Welcomes Apple to the Party!

January 20th, 2012 by CourseSmart

In response to Apple’s announcement yesterday regarding their entry into the eTextbook market, we at CourseSmart, as industry leaders, would like to welcome them to the party! With the explosion in popularity of eTexts over the past year, it’s certainly no surprise that Apple would want to make a late entry into the market.

Here are our initial thoughts:

We’re pleased about the impact Apple’s statement has made on the way people view the act of accessing educational course materials today. Any announcement which brings more awareness to digital course materials is good for students, and will help move the industry forward. However, yesterday’s Apple offerings left us with more questions than answers.

Here are our initial questions:

Are the apps only available for the iPad or will Apple become “device agnostic?” According to Student Monitor data that was released yesterday, only 9% of Higher Education students own an iPad. Although we do not know, we assume the number may be even lower for the K-12 market due to the price of an iPad. What about the millions of cash-strapped students who already own an Android device, a Kindle Fire or a Nook? Unless Apple intends to offer on other devices, the market will be underserved. CourseSmart was the first to develop an iPhone app, Android app, and Web app that allows even Kindle Fire & Nook owners to access CourseSmart eTexts through their very own device.

Who is developing the content? The new iBooks Author app allows users to create and publish books for the iPad by dragging and resizing images and text, adding definitions, movies, and 3D objects. Apple stated that anyone with JavaScript or HTML5 skills can make their eText interactive. We doubt that faculty will be easily convinced to create their own content when they have hundreds of papers to grade and have to learn JavaScript or HTML5 in order to incorporate interactivity. In fact, the best and most trusted content is created by publishers in partnership with authors.

Will using iBooks 2 offer improved learning outcomes? While it’s great to see Apple providing many parity features that CourseSmart and other providers already offer, iBooks 2 isn’t really reinventing textbooks. Our publishers already have, with “eResources” which are much more advanced technologically. CourseSmart has the largest catalog of eResources from all the major publishers, who have partnered with the most credible authors. Interactivity is cool and interesting, but only if connected to improving student learning outcomes.

The development and consumption of digital content is well underway. Though Apple’s late entry to the market was not entirely unexpected, its impact on learning remains yet to be proven. CourseSmart, founded in 2007, is the world’s largest provider of digital content. Our catalog includes over 90% of the textbooks in use today. CourseSmart customers enjoy anytime, anywhere access. We look forward to the future of the digital publishing industry, and we’re eager to continue to be the market leader for our millions of student, faculty and institutional users.

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Don’t Miss CourseSmart at EDUCAUSE 2011 in Philadelphia!

October 18th, 2011 by CourseSmart

Educause 2011 logo


CourseSmart is in the City of Brotherly Love!  We are descending on Philadelphia this week for the annual EDUCAUSE conference, a gathering of more than 4,000 educators, administrators, and thought leaders in the higher education IT industry.  In addition to chowing down on Philly cheesesteaks and doing our best Rocky impression on the stairs of the Philadelphia Art Museum, we look forward to networking with IT leaders and discussing new opportunities for providing students with equal and affordable access to digital course materials.  We will also be spending time with our publisher and institutional partners talking about our latest integrations with Desire to Learn, Pearson LearningStudio, and Blackboard Learn.


We are thrilled to be a sponsor of the 2011 EDUCAUSE Annual Conference, a distinction which allows us to host two refreshment breaks on the exhibit floor on Thursday, October 20.  Stop by to chat with a CourseSmart representative about our latest innovations, or just to pick up some SWAG!  If you can’t make it to the refreshment breaks, be sure to see CourseSmart CTO, Tom Hadfield, give a presentation in the Gilfus Education booth (#1457) on Wednesday, October 19, from 10:00-10:40am.  Tom will be discussing the current and future state of digital course materials, and the changing consumption patterns of today’s students. And, if you will not be attending this year’s conference, get the latest news and updates from Philadelphia by following @CourseSmart­_ on Twitter.


We are looking forward to an exciting and informative week in Philadelphia, and we hope to see you there!


- Nani Jansen, Marketing Coordinator, CourseSmart

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The Evolution of eTextbook Content

February 15th, 2011 by CourseSmart

The Smartphone, and later the iPad, revolutionized the way we consume content, both on the internet and in applications. Whether reading the news, scrolling through Twitter timelines, or playing games interactions with content have changed dramatically. Users actively participate with the content, liking posts or articles, seamlessly and instantly sharing content with friends, and even commenting on stories and discussing content with other users in real time. With the introduction of new forms of e-books, interactions with content viewed on a Smartphone or tablet device have turned once passive readers into active readers.


In April 2010, the release of a classic piece of literature, Alice in Wonderland, changed the way readers interacted with tablet device content. Atomic Antelope’s highly interactive e-book version of the Lewis Carroll classic allows readers to experience the written words in a completely new way. Pictures within the text come to life as the reader tilts, turns and taps their way through the text. 


As etextbooks become more prevalent on campuses across the nation, and students become more comfortable with digital resources as study tools, one can only hope that etextbook content will evolve to the level we see in Atomic Antelope’s Alice in Wonderland.  Ganong’s Review of Medical Physiology, published by McGraw Hill, a CourseSmart publisher partner, previews how textbook content can evolve for tablets such as the iPad. Ganong’s etextbook allows students to interactive with the material in a new way, creating a richer learning environment. Imagine the day when all etextbooks allow students to interact the way Ganong’s does; letting readers quiz themselves by hiding tags on chart or images, turning chapter review sections into interactive quizzes, and animating diagrams.


The timing for the evolution of etextbook content isn’t certain, but it’s exciting to think one day with the tilt of an iPad a diagram of osmosis comes to life as particles pass through cell walls. Or maybe, with the trace of a finger over a blank graph a parabola is drawn completing a practice problem at the end of chapter. Once again the interactions with content will change the way users read books, and hopefully, how students retain knowledge.

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BlackBerry PlayBook creates real competition for Apple iPad

February 7th, 2011 by CourseSmart

After the flux of tablets debuted at the consumer electronics show just one month ago, I was surprised to recently find a tablet I had not yet become familiar with; the Blackberry PlayBook. Of course, the first thing that came to mind “Is this going to be the iPad killer everyone’s been expecting?”


Doing more research, I found that the functionality of the Blackberry PlayBook is very similar to that of the iPad. Where the PlayBook differs is where it may have the most impact on college students. First and foremost PlayBook supports Adobe Flash. For anyone who’s tried to watch a Flash video or access any Flash content on the iPad you already know the frustration. PlayBook’s ability to give users a full web experience means never missing content, viewing videos on class websites, opening embedded documents, and maybe being able to view a cool Flash site, or play a game in your off time between classes.


Another feature of the PlayBook that really caught my eye is the ability to wirelessly tether the tablet to a BlackBerry. With a Bluetooth connection, you can access anything on your phone through the tablet. Using the Bluetooth connection, you can sync all of the information you enter on your phone with your tablet, and vice versa. When I’m running out of class I can quickly enter homework assignments and important dates on my phone and have it all sync up with my PlayBook without duplicating anything. You can even access the BBM on your phone using the PlayBook, so you can still message all of your friends.


These two features will help set the BlackBerry PlayBook apart from the iPad. Sadly, Research in Motion has delayed the release of the PlayBook, originally scheduled for March 2011, and now rescheduled for May 2011.


With most campuses encouraging or sponsoring the use of the iPad for classwork and for reading digital textbooks, do you think the PlayBook has the ability to kill the iPad? Which tablet would you choose?


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CourseSmart eTextbooks on a Tablet

January 5th, 2010 by CourseSmart

Hundreds of thousands of students are already accessing their assigned textbooks as CourseSmart eTextbooks on their laptops, netbooks, desktops, computer labs, iPhones, iPod Touches and other mobile devices.

But what about eTextbooks on the new “tablet” devices?

When media and analysts speculate about the emerging tablet market, they inevitably come to the conclusion that these devices will be very popular with college students if and when there is eTextbook content available.

We agree completely! Better yet, with our library of 8,000+ textbooks across 15 different publishers, we are in a position to make sure that the right content is available to every student who wants to access their textbooks on a tablet.

In the video below, we set out to visualize the experience of a student using a CourseSmart eTextbook on a tablet. Most of the functionality demonstrated is currently available in our online eTextbook and/or our iPhone app and the video shows how it might be optimized for a larger format tablet device.

Let us know what you think.

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