Students buy an eBook either on CafeScribe’s online store or in its offline store. They then read it via a PC and Mac software program called MyScribe.
Notes in MyScribe are done as overlays, so that they stay in context. Notes can also be shared, including in groups, which according to Isabella Hinds means that students can “have a dialog about the book while they’re reading.”
Groups may be created not only inside the classroom environment, but as part of the purchase of an eBook. The buyer can see who else purchased that same eTextbook, and choose to create or join a group around the book. Follett has observed that many students are creating study groups around books.
Groups are also very useful for instructors, who can create a group for their class. Hinds told us that this enables instructors to “enrich the core book with content or comments that they find valuable.” They can also better engage with students and ascertain whether students are really learning the material. Teachers can encourage students to ask questions, via the notes feature.
One of the main features of MyScribe that Hinds pointed to is maintaining pagination, which helps in group collaboration and also syncing eBooks with paper books.
eTextbook Market & Future
Currently there are about 10,000 books available in CafeScribe. Hinds said that Follett represents all of the major Higher Ed publishers, including the 5 largest.
The product is being used today by about 400 education institutions across the US. Some are using the product heavily, while others have just a few courses that utilize it. The product is currently being introduced in Canadian stores, but there are no plans to extend outside of North America.
As for its future, CafeScribe is making a push towards mobile – in particular the iPhone, Android, and iPad. It recognizes that students use a variety of devices nowadays, so it wants to go beyond the PC market. Whether CafeScribe can tackle eReader devices will, as noted above, depend on iPad pricing going down and eReader functionality going up.
Students & Teachers: Are You Using eTextbooks?
A study in May by OnCampus Research showed that 74% of students still prefer to use a printed textbook when taking a class. The Seattle Times also reported in May that eTextbooks are “flunking.” So clearly, eTextbooks have a long way to go. On the other side of the coin, eTextbooks are expected to 1 in 5 textbooks by 2014.
Much of the problem at present seems to be that eReaders are either too expensive (e.g. iPad) or not functional enough (e.g. Kindle). Those issues certainly seem solvable by 2014.
If you’re a student or teacher, we’d love your input in the comments about your use of eBooks – or if you don’t use them, why not?