CourseSmart, a consortium of textbook publishers offering a range of digital textbooks options for faculty and students, has released the new CourseSmart Reader, a new browser-based e-reading software platform that offers improved functionality, new tools, viewing options and overall enhanced user experience for accessing digital textbooks and course material. The new reader offers three distinct online viewing options and the release marks an enhancement in the CourseSmart platform that allows its e-textbook catalog to be \ integrated into an educational institution’s library and campus learning systems.

The new CourseSmart Reader is a cloud-based browser-based e-reader that offers students and faculty improvements in overall user experience including improved look and feel, faster page loading, stream-lined navigation, better highlighting, notes and annotations, improved search and the ability to easily index a complete listing of all notes and annotations, according to Jill Ambrose, chief marketing officer at CourseSmart. “We took a lot of faculty and student feedback to learn what helps them the most in teaching and learning to make these improvements,” she said.

The new reader allows a user to access their textbook content on multiple devices online as well as offline. Students can log on their account through the web or through the CourseSmart web app and users can toggle back and forth between the improved new reader and the classic reader view. Another upgrade allows users to request Accessible View, which provides the digital text in a fixed layout mode that displays the original print layout. The new CourseSmart Reader is available for use on Apple devices—the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch—as well as Android 2.3 and 3.0 tablets and the Kindle Fire, NookColor and NookTablet.

CourseSmart is a consortium of academic publishers that includes Pearson, Cengage Learning, McGraw-Hill Education, Macmillan Higher Education and John Wiley. According to Ambrose, the service distributes about 24,000 digital textbooks from all the major U.S. textbook houses, offering access to about 90% of all textbooks used in U.S. higher education. The service also offers “e-resources," a variety of interactive multimedia optimized digital learning materials that offer a range of feedback on student learning, including interactive gradebooks and material that reviews content and offers alternative resources to assist student comprehension.

“We’re a hub that offers services to students, that allow them to purchase or rent textbooks at about 60% discount on print prices; we offer faculty free access to the CourseSmart cataglog for choice control and sampling—88% of all U.S. higher education faculty have CourseSmart accounts; we distribute textbooks through stores in physical form or with download codes.”

Ambrose noted that CourseSmart has also received a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Dept of education to support The Student E-rent Pilot Project, or STEPP, a digital textbook rental program specializing supporting low-coast access to digital texts for those with print-related disabilities like blindness or dyslexia. “Workflows are changing and we want to be able to integrate into those systems,” Ambrose said, emphasizing that the ways that students access content is constantly changing. She pointed to the proliferation of mobile devices. The use of tablets have grown and about 14% of our users prefer to use tablets or have multiple devices.”