Wednesday, June 20, 2012

CourseSmart vs Nook Study

CourseSmart and Nook Study (from Barnes and Noble) are platforms that allow uniform access to e-books and use a standard reader. So, instead of going to McGraw-Hill directly for an e-book, then Cengage for another and having to remember multiple usernames/passwords and how the sites work, many of these e-books can be integrated to allow students to just access one place for multiple books and use a consistent product to reduce the learning curve.

Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI): Both platforms can integrate with Desire2Learn (D2L) and many other learning management systems for a single sign on and access to the book right through D2L. This further reduces the number of sites students have to go to. The D2L integration would would allow instructors to link to specific pages to guide students and instructors using Nook Study could also see the students' progress and share annotations. D2L integration basically allows more online interaction with the textbook. Also, CourseSmart provides instructor access to all of their textbooks for previewing if it is integrated. We currently do not have LTI enabled and are looking into it. It seems to present significant advantages.

There is no cost to CourseSmart or Nook Study; the cost is reflected in the books purchased through them. Although they integrate all of these textbooks into one place, each individual book still has to be purchased to keep or rent and the cost is still substantial.

It's important to clarify a few things about e-books before getting further into the comparison:

There is currently no direct electronic replacement for buying a physical book and lending it, like the UWEC textbook rental system. "Rental" does not always mean the same thing. There is no way for a university to purchase an e-book and give it out and take it back 6 times like we do with paper books. My guess is that there never will be either. 

Rented e-books are not much of a cost savings over purchased e-books (maybe 10%) so it usually makes sense to purchase the e-book - however, not all platforms provide the option to purchase. CourseSmart is rental only while NookStudy provides all of the options when available. 

UWEC students pay about $98 per semester for all of their rental paper books. That is approximately the cost of one e-textbook. 
THEREFORE, our exploration of e-books at UWEC is for use in situations where a book would have to be purchased anyway because the cost of textbook rental (for students) cannot be beat.

If students have to purchase a book not available through rental,
the e-book will probably be a cost savings over paper, but it may not be as much as expected. CourseSmart indicates e-textbooks are 60% less than paper and Nook Study clearly lays out the cost of paper purchase, e-rental, and e-purchase which usually shows a significant savings with the electronic versions. At least, the cost differences are clear up front. 

You may have heard about the
 Daytona State study highlighted in a Chronicle of Higher Education article titled "E-Textbooks Saved Many Students Only $1." The longer Educause article actually indicates that cost savings ("although variable and sometimes small") is still the first benefit of the Daytona pilot. It seems the publisher reduced the price of the print version and increased the price of the electronic version during the four-semester pilot: the savings were substantial early in the pilot, then evened out by the end. I wish Daytona would have elaborated on what happened rather than just saying it was due to "publisher purchasing decisions." Regardless, I do not see this one pilot as a reason to abandon e-books or make a blanket statement that they are not less expensive. It does bring up a good point that prices should be examined closely, the price of either version of the book can change, and it would not be advisable to require the electronic version unless it provided a substantial price break to offset the inability to sell it back (assuming student satisfaction is a concern!). 

Most of the articles I read indicate that our current college students prefer print. That's probably because they are used to print and aren't used to annotating electronically. This will change as more students grow up reading electronically and realize it can be efficient. We need to be ready for them. In addition, current e-books are just "paper under glass." There will be more of a reason to use them when they provide additional benefits by integrating multimedia. The literature indicates that it is a good idea to offer students the option of paper or electronic - at least at this point, with these students. 

To address a common instructor concern, I know that e-books on 
both platforms retain the same pagination as the print versions. Yippee! 
Although there are many options for e-book platforms which I will continue to explore, here is what I've gleaned so far in comparing these two:

How Books are Accessed
I may not fully understand all the details or use the correct terms, but here's what I understand:
  • CourseSmart is web-based and offers apps for mobile devices. Books can be accessed offline by caching them; they are not really downloaded. I think that means a "downloaded" book is available through the browser you used to make it offline until you clear your browser history (?).  Their video explains it well.
    • CourseSmart would allow integration of learning objects, such as McGraw-Hill Connect in the same way as the book is integrated. 
  • Nook Study is more traditional - you download the book and you need the software to read it on the computer. Nook Study is only accessible on a computer; there is talk of an iPad app but recently Microsoft purchased about 17% of them so maybe they will hold out for Windows 8. You can archive the books so they do not take up space on your computer though. 
  • CourseSmart only offers rentals. The length of time can be a semester or a year, or they can work out something custom if necessary. Even notes go away after the rental period. 
  • Nook Study offers purchase or rental. I find this to be a significant advantage, since many of the purchase books at UWEC are for classes in the major, which are the books students are more likely to want to keep. Also, Nook Study offers novels whereas CourseSmart is textbooks only. Notes taken can be downloaded as a Word file. 
The Reader
  • I'm not an experienced user of either, but based on what I know so far Nook Study seems to have an advantage because it has a built in text-to-speech tool and it allows for more interaction (sharing annotations and seeing student progress) if we have LTI enabled. The main disadvantage of Nook Study is that it's only available on a computer whereas CourseSmart is very mobile, so people with tablets cannot read their Nook Study textbooks on them. Oddly enough, not even the Nook device allows access to Nook Study e-books. I understand lack of access via phone and kind of respect Nook Study for not allowing customers to be dissatisfied since reading a textbook on a phone is probably going to be a dissatisfying experience, but I'd be disappointed if I couldn't read my e-textbook on my iPad. 
Aspects I'm still looking into include book availability, cost, and support/training. Regardless, we at UWEC are not locked into e-books from any one provider, so we could try out a few options with different classes in a pilot. Stay tuned!

Here are some other good articles relating to e-books:


  1. April, would you be able to give an update on why Barnes&Nobel has not put nook-study on their tablet or allowed an application for Nooks study on mobil devices droids or ipads. I have spoke to B&N reps a few times and they don't have an answer. I want to have the ability to read my text books on my tablet and it still isn't supported. So I consider CourseSmart rather than nook but don't like their rent for life option and paying almost full price of nearly $200 for a high end Mathematics Text book. What is going on with this text book market that is resistant to mobile devices (tablet) use in the classroom.