Digital course materials were supposed to make things easier for students. Rather than purchasing photocopied packets assembled from journal articles, book excerpts and the like, students could get PDFs — downloadable and readable online across multiple platforms, printable for offline studying.
Of course, students haven’t really flocked to digital materials, whether they’re textbooks or course packets, even though many companies are working on tech solutions aimed at them. The obstacles to adoption remain the format (the PDF) and the cost.
A new startup launching today is taking a different approach to the digital course packet, one that’s focused on making its assembly easier for instructors — with the hope, of course, that by building a beautiful (and ideally cost-saving) solution for professors, that the student business (and, of course, the students actually buying and reading those course materials) will follow.
Ginkgotree  has built a (device agnostic) Web app to help professors build and distribute their course packets.
The process of creating a course packet is incredibly easy and works for print and other media types. Just search for the title you want, list the page numbers you want included, and the app will create a PDF so that you don’t need to. The app also checks copyright clearance (using the Copyright Clearance Center’s API) and lists the price that students will have to pay for copyright fees. There’s also a book-scanning service — if you don’t have a digital copy of the materials you want to utilize, Ginkgotree will generate a shipping label for you to send your book(s) where they’ll be scanned and (hopefully) OCRed.
If you’ve ever stood and made photocopies yourself from books and journals and then handed the copies over to your campus’s copyright clearance office, unsure of how much students are going to be dinged for copyright fees, you know how much time and hassle this saves.
Ginkgotree has other plans in the works too, including building out a tagging system so that classes can have a private social network of sorts around materials. Analytics — what’s been read, scrolled through and clicked on around these tags — are also being developed.
Ginkgotree is free for instructors. Students pay a per month fee (currently set at around $10), regardless of how many courses they’re in, for access to the materials. The launch today was only a private beta, but you can request an invite on the site. Ginkgotree's competitors include AcademicPub , as well as most campuses' local photocopy center.