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CourseSmart to offer e-textbooks via Canvas

When students return next fall, the textbooks they could be flipping through might be in the form of a PDF or another file on their tablet or computer.

Students will be able to access their books via Canvas, through an online textbook service called CourseSmart.

Although the University Bookstore is already offering students the ability to rent e-textbooks, CourseSmart’s integration with Canvas will allow students to look at their textbooks just by clicking a link at the top of their Canvas portals.

“What was important to me was to put this in one location for both the faculty member and student to see and access,” said John Ellinger, chief information officer for the University. ”On every page, the faculty member has access to it and the student does too.”

Besides the student-faculty accessibility, Ellinger, who has been involved in finding and implementing a system like CourseSmart, also wanted the system to be compatible with what already existed on campus.

“It had to be able to work with the bookstore,” Ellinger said.

In an attempt to keep the bookstore’s profits from dipping with the integration of CourseSmart, the e-textbook aggregator may offer small monetary kickbacks to the University Bookstore.

While Ellinger and ITS will handle the technological side of the CourseSmart integration with Canvas, Jeff Nelson, director of the University Bookstore will handle the purchasing side.

“We’ll be able to offer a lot more titles in store than we can today,” Nelson said.

One of the benefits CourseSmart may offer on a book to book basis is a cheaper price, Nelson said. The price drop is partially because of the lowered cost of the book but also because e-textbooks on CourseSmart tend to run out after a semester or two, he said.

“Any e-book is usually priced less, but these are usually only good for a limited amount of time,” Nelson said.

The University Bookstore already offers individual price comparisons with e-books from CourseSmart in its online comparison purchaser.

Along with students being able to read their books online, teachers may also be able to figure out how much their students have actually read if they have purchased the book through CourseSmart.

Although the feature is available to faculty members, Nelson said it’s not meant to seem like teachers are spying on their students.

“It can be helpful in early intervention,” Nelson said. “It’s kind of the difference between me standing up in front of the class and saying ‘Did everybody read chapter eight?’ … and then me being able to go in and see that three or four people haven’t even read the book. I could then remind them.”

While CourseSmart’s integration with Canvas is something new, the University Bookstore has been in the e-textbook business since 2005 when it became one of the first 10 university bookstore in the country to offer e-textbooks regularly.

With CourseSmart’s integration, Ellinger and Nelson are hoping to add a CourseSmart help desk in the University Bookstore. CourseSmart also offers its own direct online support 24 hours a day, according to CourseSmart’s website.

“We want make sure [students and faculty] are getting what they need … it’s just part of our overall expansion,” Nelson said.

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