Students on 50 campuses will use iPad-based Inkling eBooks this fall.

Besides notes, highlights, and web links, an eBook company has introduced interactive and social media aspects to its tablet-based tomes, becoming the latest to blend textbooks with classroom-like chats.

Inkling, a San Francisco-based company that grabbed attention in K-12 schools and colleges last year when it began converting textbooks into Apple iPad applications, announced this month that its newest iteration would include a study group feature that lets students and professors interact within the eBook.

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If a student has questions about a class reading, for instance, she can connect with anyone else who uses the eBook converted to iPad format, or with friends on Facebook.

And for college students who want feedback from an expert on the subject at hand, the new Inkling books have expert notes included in almost every title the company provides.

The expert’s input is highlighted in different colors, making it easy to identify the supplemental tidbits among the black-and-white pages.

Matt MacInnis, Inkling’s founder and CEO, said in an Aug. 25 blog post that the eBooks’ newest social features will give instant access to the “collective wisdom” of every student, expert, and faculty member who has used the Inkling book.

“Inkling 2.0 scratches another itch we’ve felt about textbooks: they’re isolating,” MacInnis wrote. “While it’s certainly useful to focus on your studies, it’s also important to talk to people about what you’re learning. … Ask a question inside the textbook, get an answer. Have a conversation with your professor, or a professor at another school.”

Inkling’s 2.0 eBooks will also let students combine their tablet reading with Google and Wikipedia searching. Those sites will be available for extra web research as a student reads her class assignment, and the results can be saved in the individualized Inkling notebook.

Inkling’s online store has about 50 textbooks, and the company’s website said students and faculty members on more than 50 campuses will use Inkling eBooks this fall.

Not everyone is sold on Inkling’s 2.0 rollout.

Until Inkling has hundreds or thousands of college textbook titles, the eBooks’ social media aspect will likely go unnoticed in higher education, said Nate Hoffelder, a writer for The Digital Reader, a blog that tracks developments in the ePublishing industry.

“There’s not much reason to download the app,” he wrote, adding that the social media additions are “long overdue basic features.” “Chances are it won’t have a textbook you can use.”

Inkling’s announcement marked the second time in August that an eBook company unveiled plans to incorporate reading with social media platforms and student-to-student communication.

Kno, an educational software company that grabbed the attention of campus technologists in July with the release of a controversial eBook survey, announced Aug. 10 that it would make more than 100,000 digital textbooks readable via Facebook.

Using Kno’s Facebook application–-in open beta for now–-students will be able to access a reading assignment and use their Facebook news feed to pose questions to fellow students, teaching assistants, and professors.

While student Facebook use is considered ubiquitous in many corners of higher education, Kno released survey results to reinforce what faculty members know all too well: Facebook is an ingrained part of everyday life for teenagers and twenty-somethings.

“Students interact differently in the digital medium and our goal is to help students easily extract the pertinent information for their classes,” said Osman Rashid, Kno’s CEO and co-founder. “While it may seem like a radical concept to bring textbooks to Facebook, we see a real shift occurring among students, where learning is getting embedded with social aspects of their everyday life.”


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