Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Reviews of six eTextbook platforms

On The Textbook Guru blog, Jeff Cohen has reviewed six eTextbook platforms: Chegg, CourseSmart, iBooks, Inkling, Kindle and Kno. Cohen doesn't pick a "winner," but he does a good job of reviewing the pros and cons of each platform as they relate to eTextbooks. Here's a brief summary:
  • Chegg: Based on HTML5, has a built-in "Ask a Question" feature for getting more information from experts, and its purchase and usage models are based on how students actually use textbooks. It's biggest downside is that it's online only and requires an Internet connection at all times. 
  • CourseSmart: It allows both online and offline access to eTextbooks. Individual pages, along with highlights and notes, can be shared with classmates and instructors. Up to ten pages from any title can be printed. However, CourseSmart only rents eTextbooks, and they're disabled at the end of the rental period. It only has one level of zoom and no multimedia features.
  • iBooks: It brings Apple's ease-of-use and user interface design to eBooks. eTextbooks can include 3D models, embedded video and interactive quizzes. There are also virtual study cards that contain chapter-specific glossary terms. iBooks eTextbooks work both online and offline. The biggest downside is the still-limited number of eTextbooks available for the platform. 
  • Inkling: Works on the iPad and in some HTML5-compatible browsers. Allows students to purchase eTextbooks by the chapter or by the entire book. Supports online and offline reading. Video, audio, interactive and 3D content can be incorporated into the eTextbooks. Notes can be shared with other students. The biggest drawback is a strict returns policy. 
  • Kindle: Has the most flexible rental and returns policy--eTextbooks can be rented for 30 days and extended as needed, or returned within the first seven days for a full refund. The "X-Ray" feature gives the definitions of important words, phrases and names, and visual diagrams of where they're used in the text. The biggest drawback is that most eTextbooks don't use Kindle Format 8, so they're black & white only, with no 3D, animations or video, and very limited audio support. 
  • Kno: Supports iPads and HTML5 browsers, but not all titles work in both eReaders.  eTextbooks can be returned within 15 days, so long as the user hasn't gone past the first 20% of the book. Notes, bookmarks and annotations can't be transferred between platforms--for example, notes made in the HTML5 version can't be accessed when the eTextbook is opened in the iPad eReader. Cohen found that Kno's beta "Quiz Me" feature, which turns sections of the eTextbook into fill-in-the-blanks quizzes, didn't work properly. Some images were left out due to copyright restrictions. 

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