Since the inception of the Apple iPad there has been a lot of focus on it as a netbook alternative, as a large portable media device, and as just a fun gadget with games. It is all of those things, but to me it’s none of those things. To me it is a great educational tool, with even greater unrealized potential.

Myself like many others over the past couple of years have been tightening the belt. And rather than running out and buying the coolest electronic device that comes out I pause and ask myself a question,
“How will I use it?” If I can’t answer that question, I won’t buy it.

So why am I then carrying an iPad with me twice a week? This past fall I became an M.B.A. student at the Rohrer College of Business at Rowan University specializing in Marketing. Upon enrolling in my first semester I looked at prices of my classes, and the prices of the books. The books prices gave me pause and encouraged me to do a little research.

iPad using Coursesmart (6month wifi req.) Rowan University Bookstore(New) Bookstore(Used)
One Time Cost


First Semester Costs




Second Semester Costs(est.)




Third Semester Costs(est.)




Fourth Semester Costs(est.)




Total spent over 2 year program:




If I purchased my books directly through the school’s bookstore my three courses and their six books would have totaled $593.45 for the first semester. Now many people will retort that you can buy online and save a lot more buying used books. On sites like Amazon if one purchases the books used it would have roughly cost $324, nearly half. However when buying online used especially from sites like Amazon or Half you are taking three risks; first these sites are a store front for third party seller who might too be a student, second you are reliant on an unverified description of the condition of the book, and third you wait for the book to ship which may result in a delay. In my searching online for books, I looked into the Kindle as an option. Surprisingly the Kindle and other e-readers have very limited e-textbook offerings. During my researching however one of the books in particular wasn’t listed in the Kindle store, Amazon advertised Coursesmart for e-textbooks. Coursesmart offers e-books in two forms. First you can purchase the book and download it to up to five computers; or you can “rent” the book for six months and access it whenever you have an internet connection with a pc or an iPad/iPhone/iPod touch when Coursesmart’s app is installed.

In the table I have compared the prices of the three options. A note about the table; I have to estimate the future costs of the books, this semester I am taking three classes opposed to the four I will be taking each of the next three semesters it is fair say my book costs will stay the same or increase.




Light weight No battery needed

  • Wordprocessor
  • Spreadsheet
  • Excel
  • Wolfram Alpha
  • Calculator
  • Email
  • Webrowser
  • Internet searching
No wifi needed
Word/topic search within books Can more easily share book among classmates
Can electronically write notes/highlight/bookmark Can write notes/highlight on pages
Zoom in on text or math problems Easy bookmarking(anything can be used to mark a page, even a page by folding a corner)
Follow along with presentations by teachers who post notes online Reduced show off factor
Share notes wirelessly between computer, iPad, and smart phones. (Simple Note) Simple, no learning curve(Requires ability to read)

Costs alone do not out weigh the pros or cons associated with an iPad vs. a textbook. I had these considerations as well when determining the best course of action for myself. First I looked at how I would be attending my classes. I would be commuting to class twice a week, and for that weight became a factor and the iPad was a clear choice.  Then looking at the functionality books have a serious advantage in that they do not need a power source or internet connection to ever be used. However an iPad can do many more things than just display text and numbers on. With an iPad one can browse the internet during in class discussions (especially useful if the teacher posts their notes online), direct bookmarking to internet sources, and download apps that expand its abilities. Some apps I have found to be very useful like Wolfram Alpha, DocsToGo, Simplenote, Wikipanion, and of course Coursesmart. The iPad’s new multitasking feature allows switching between active apps is extremely useful.

Coursesmart has many useful functions, and some unsurprising. Bookmarking, highlighting, and in page noting are possible, which all can be quickly referenced later. The two most useful functions I use regularly are topic/word searching, and pinch zooming on calculus problems where symbols can be hard to read. One flaw that was irksome at times was the inability to stop a page from auto rotating when you tilted the iPad, however with the latest 4.2 update one can lock the orientation of the screen to what you prefer in applications.

Now I suppose you might think I’m a representative for Apple, Coursesmart, or even an Apple diehard, but I’m not, I have a pc and an android phone. With this purchase I am so happy with the results that I decided to write this and share my reasoning to possibly help other students who want to reduce their expenses, weight, and waste. The iPad combined with Coursesmart is a serious alternative to the University bookstore and even to buying online used books. In the end comparing the alternatives, weighing the benefits and disadvantages, and looking at the long-term usefulness of the iPad I made the right choice for myself and thus why I will never buy another textbook for school.


At the original time I wrote this the iPad(1) had only been on the market for a few months, and I was just starting my MBA program. With Apple launching their new textbooks store I thought it’d be good to re-post this article I had written. A few things have changed since then obviously, as we’ve had at least one major software update from Apple, and a whole new iPad launch, as well as numerous updates from Coursesmart. Many of the points the article points out are still true, and I still use my original iPad exactly for the above purposes. Definitely something any college student should consider moving forward.