by: Alexander Chamessian, MS2
Recently, I had the pleasure of reviewing one of my favorite anatomy books on the Inkling app for iPad.
I was curious to see how the peculiarities of studying anatomy would pan out on Inkling. I’m now undertaking the same task on another popular e-reader app for iPad, Coursesmart.
The book I’ll be reviewing is my favorite neuronanatomy textbook, Neuroanatomy Through Clinical Cases by Hal Blumenfeld, 2nd ed (NTCC). The quality of this title is undisputed, so like my last review, I’m not going to focus on the content as much as the delivery.
With neuroanatomy, it’s all about the images. You need to visualize the parts of the brain and nervous system to truly understand what’s going on. One of the reasons NTCC is a favorite amongst medical students is because of its numerous excellent illustrations and figures.
Unfortunately, the Coursesmart platform does little to enhance those gems. There is no ability to open a figure within a new window and study it in isolation. This means that the figures are restricted to the size that they appear embedded within the text. Using the finger-pinch-zoom is not much recourse because this just causes the images to get granular.
Another feature that is lacking is the ability to turn off labels. Removing the labels and quizzing oneself is one of the most effective ways to study anatomy. There would be so much added value to the Coursesmart presentation of NTCC if I could have removed the labels, but sadly I could not.
Moreover, on the whole, the brilliance and quality of the figures was rather low. Both the text and the figures in Coursesmart are dull and on every page there is an annoying faded identifier barcode that can interfere with text and figures.
NTCC has a fantastic chapter on the Neurological Exam that is accompanied by a series of videos demonstrating the parts of the exam. Those videos are normally found on a free companion website. I was hoping that in the digital version of NTCC on Coursesmart, these videos would be integrated into the text such that a seamless and dynamic experience could be achieved.
However, that was not the case. In this omission, Coursesmart missed the opportunity to demonstrate the added power and value of digital textbooks.
Although it’s missing some important things I’ve come to expect from an e-textbook, Coursesmart does have some good features that make their offerings better than just reading a paper book. There is an annotation function that allows readers to take notes on each page. Navigation is intuitive with a collapsible page bar at the bottom of the page as well as a dropdown bar at the top. There is also a powerful search function and ‘jump to’ capability. Also, unlike Inkling, Coursesmart works on multiple devices, including my desktop computer, which is something I value since I have several devices on which I regularly work.
- $47.95 for 540 days (rental)
- Large number of medical titles
- Can be viewed on multiple devices
- Offline and online reading
- Annotation and search functions
- Poor image and text quality
- Cannot ‘turn off’ labels on figures
- No jump links in the text to figures or other parts of the book
- No integrated media (videos) into the text
- Book is rented, not owned
- Not much different from reading a PDF
- Overall, I was not very impressed with my experience with NTCC on Coursesmart. All told, reading NTCC on Coursesmart was comparable to reading a PDF, which isn’t to say the experience was bad, but it wasn’t great either. Coursesmart gets the job done. That much is sure. What was missing most for me was an appreciation for the individual quirks of this title. There was no effort to customize Coursesmart for NTCC, which is what I was hoping for.
- But truth be told, I could not get this title digitally on my iPad through any other means. And I couldn’t view it on so many devices either. And therein lies the best thing I can say about Coursesmart: it’s got a lot of titles, more than most any other digital reader. With future iterations, I hope Coursesmart makes an effort to adapt to the special needs of the textbooks it publishes and makes the experience as dynamic and social as Inkling is doing with its textbooks.
Coursesmart Neuroanatomy through Clinical Cases, Second Edition