Shmoop and Scitable leverage mobile platforms to reach students

Two different approaches, two very different products, 1 big acknowledgement of the role of mobile Internet access worldwide in education.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

Shmoop, an extensive collection of online materials that aims to draw modern, relevant connections to challenging academic content, and Scitable, the open-access science library from the Nature Publishing Group, both announced mobile content this week to easily reach a broader cross-section of students. While Shmoop has always used a premium model to provide Sparknotes-on-steroids materials for a variety of subjects, Scitable has focused its efforts on rich, deep, free content with the peer-reviewed credibility of its scientific publications. The two have taken different approaches to their mobile rollouts as well, but are both significantly broadening their audience with these mobile announcements.

For the low, low price of $1.99, Shmoop Apps can be downloaded from the Android Market and the iPad ebookstore. These releases actually make Shmoop the largest cross-platform educational publisher in the world. The company has 4000 titiles providing extensive, well-written analyses of both modern and classic literature, as well as history and current events, among an expanding set of topics. As Shmoop CEO, Ellen Siminoff, explained,

“We’ll use students’ crushes on their mobile devices as a way to help them find real love for literature, poetry, history, and the world around them.”

While Shmoop already offers their titles on the Web, Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader, this effort adds 500 titles to the Android Market:

Shmoop offers Android Apps for literature, poetry, music, US history, civics, and biographies. Each App includes our fast-paced Quiz-o-Rama trivia game. Dare to test your smarts.

A quick scan of the Market on my Droid turned up everything from an in-depth analysis of McCarthyism during the Cold War to a guide to Orwell's 1984. If you haven't finished your summer reading, but snagged yourself an Android phone with money from that summer job, this is probably a pretty fine place to turn.

Their iPad offerings are similar, but their press release is worth reading:

Behold the Jobsian beauty of Shmoop eBooks for your shiny new iPad. More than 500 Shmoop Learning Guides are available in this world-class reading experience. Highlight, bookmark, or write notes in your favorite Shmoop guide. Just remember to wash your hands if you’re chomping on buttery popcorn while pawing at your screen.

In either case, you can find Shmoop content by searching the respective stores for "Shmoop."

Scitable, on the other hand, has created a mobile version of their site that is accessible on the sorts of basic Internet-connected phones that are far more prevalent in developing countries than smartphones or computers. Although Scitable is best known for its very deep coverage of topics in science (particularly genetics), complete with rich animations, video, and teacher tools for developing classes and lessons, the mobile version is meant to be a democratizing force in scientific education. According to Vikram Savkar, SVP & Publishing Director at Nature Publishing Group,

...we’ve been working to find a way to put our high quality content library in the hands of the millions of students throughout the developing world who don’t have consistent access to personal computers or broadband. With the launch of our mobile site, any student with a cell phone, even a very basic device, has access to a simplified version of the site that includes a wealth of quality, citable information. At the same time, students in the U.S. and similar countries who have feature-rich smartphones or iPads will have access to a more robust version of Scitable, with full video/audio capabilities, built-in glossary, and in some cases full ability to network with thousands of researchers and fellow students.”

While I don't have one of those ubiquitous Nokias to which Mr. Savkar alludes, I do have a couple smartphones floating around. The new mobile interface is clean, straightforward, and extremely fast. As I've noted before, Scitable is an incredible resource, more focused, but very much on par with MIT's OpenCourseware. The addition of a great mobile interface is an important step forward, both in mature and developing markets.

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