In the first year of the iPad initiative, I wrote about eBooks as textbooks. Since I first wrote about these companies, there has been one major change. All of the companies now support access to eBook textbooks through the iPad, Windows tablets, Android tablets, and through the web. This makes it much easier for us to consider these tools for students as well as for ourselves.
One item I don't discuss here is making your own textbooks through something like iBooks author, by compiling resources in Moodle, or by using another book authoring tool. I will cover that in a later post.
Below are the major tablet textbook companies:
Kno started out as a company aiming to build a stand-alone e-text reader. It was a charming two-”page” device with interactive tools, a web connection, and a $1000 price tag. After an infusion of cash from Intel Corporation, the company refocused on developing software for the iPad. Features in Kno include annotation, notes, highlighting, bookmarks, 3D models, and zoomable diagrams. There is even a “Quiz Me” feature for diagrams, which blacks out all diagram labels and lets you test your memory. I couldn’t find a list of publishers, but a few searches of their catalog yielded some interesting results. One of the interesting features of Kno is that you can view books on multiple devices, and have all features in both formats.
Inkling started as an iPad-only textbook provider. Inkling has many interactive features like note-taking, bookmarking, videos and multimedia, interactive diagrams, and one-touch buttons to find more information about topics online. Inkling has a number of traditional textbook publishers on board, notably Pearson and McGraw Hill. You can also buy books one chapter at a time; if you only need students to use certain chapters, this is a great way to achieve that end.
CourseSmart is an e-text collaboration between Pearson, McGraw Hill, Cengage, and Wiley. This venture primarily provides web-based versions of existing texts. Pages and pagination are identical to print versions, and students can print pages, highlight and take notes. The biggest drawback to CourseSmart books is that they offer less interactive features than the ones designed for iPad. Currently, you need to be connected to the internet to read your text. Some iPad books are available in an offline browsing mode that they are testing. The biggest advantages of the CourseSmart platform are the extensive catalog of titles and the opportunity to easily connect to fellow students who have the printed text.
CafeScribe is Follet Education’s platform for hosting digital textbooks. Our bookstore uses this platform; it is almost identical in features to CourseSmart. One of the major advantages is that students can make an online textbook purchase in the physical bookstore, and then enter a code on the CafeScribe website to access it. This helps make the total text-buying process easier for students. There is an iPad app for CafeScribe, but it got very poor reviews in the app store (bugs, crashing, not able to access texts). I’m assuming the company is addressing the issues, but I wasn’t able to find more information.
Amazon Ebook Rental
Amazon has entered the rental market in the last year by offering text rentals through their Kindle app. Text rentals function similarly to Kindle books – you can annotate or take notes (which remain after the rental), look up terms, and zoom text. Some texts have more interactive features, but the app is mostly a book presentation tool. One of the nicest features is the flexibility in the length of the rental; you can have a text for 30 – 360 days. You can extend your rental as well. Kindle books are viewable on a multitude of devices, but you are limited to Kindle titles in Amazon’s catalog.
One additional item to consider when looking at e-texts: Daytona State University conducted a study of four different means of text distribution, and found that students saved little money, if any, using e-texts. So, cost savings shouldn’t be our focus. It would be better to consider the strength of features and opportunities for interaction with course material instead.