One academic’s perspective: “Thanks, but no thanks”

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The success of our reading list project will depend to a great extent on how well the Library works with our academic colleagues to understand student reading behaviour, identify core texts and implement e-book pilots.

There has been a considerable amount of work involved in establishing pilots to run in the 2014/15 academic year, from checking for suitable titles and availability to working with academics to run and evaluate the pilot projects with their students.

Given the perceived benefit of providing all students on a course with a personal copy of an electronic core text, we might have assumed that academics would be queueing up to get involved. While many have been keen to work with us, others have been more reticent.

One academic questioned the pedagogical impact of using e-books instead of print, referring to emerging research indicating that reading on paper is more effective than reading online. While electronic journals were seen as an effective way to get around limited access to content, “putting texts online is something else”.

The same member of staff also expressed concerns about the future of academic bookshops, stating that they are a valued presence on campus that may be under threat in the long term.

We have to listen to these concerns and take them on board. We know from our consultations with students that lack of access to core texts is a major problem and that a majority of students want – and expect – to be able to access texts electronically, increasingly on portable devices, without additional financial cost to themselves.

However, we also want to enhance the teaching and learning experience of academic staff and students. We have built evaluation and analysis into the pilot process and we are hoping to get back some detailed, qualitative information about the pedagogical implications (good or bad) of using e-books.

Queries and concerns from our academic colleagues are helping to inform the questions we will ask at the end of the pilot projects and serve as a useful reminder that we can’t assume automatic ‘buy-in’ from everyone we approach. We need to keep listening and keep the conversations going to make this a success.

photo credit: IMAGEngineForAutism via photopin cc

2 thoughts on “One academic’s perspective: “Thanks, but no thanks”

  1. This is very interesting and I am not surprised that some academics have been recicent to make this content available for students in this way. As an academic sales rep speaking to lecturers everyday as part of my job the attitudes and opinions around ebook pros and cons have frequently been voiced very strongly to me and will no doubt always divide opinion. One part of your comment that really stuck out to me however was ‘a majority of students want – and expect – to be able to access texts electronically, increasingly on portable devices, without additional financial cost to themselves’ and I find this even more interesting as it looks at the very role books (print or e) play in HE education. This statement would never be applied to music or films – they would never expect to receive this kind of content at no extra cost to themselves, so why with textbooks? To me this is suggesting that all materials needed for any HE study should now be part of the fees students pay when they come to university and so should be standard practice in all universties. Which of course it isn’t. My view is that the attitude that automatic access to this kind of content is the right of all students because they have decided to do a particular subject is flawed and before they decide to do any course they should consider which texts are vital to them and which ones are not and budget accordingly. Is it not about understanding what the fees they are paying cover? I worry that a decent textbooks inherent value is being judged on whether it is freely available as an ebook and not because of its actual contents. It is sad that students don’t want to buy their own books anymore.

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    1. Thanks Rebecca for your thoughts, especially sharing your interactions with academics. I think the big driver with this is the fees issue with students having to pay so much more than was the case even in the recent past. For some institutions e-book initiatives are really a loss leader to entice students to attend the aforesaid institution rather than one of their competitors. For the University of Manchester there is a push on to reduce what are perceived hidden costs such as books, lab equipment etc that students increasingly expect should be covered by their fees combined with our efforts to constantly improve the student experience. For us a library we are always asked why we don’t have more copies of core texts and increasingly why they are in an electronic form, which do not have the restrictions of current institutional e-book deals. The former complaint was ever thus, which suggests only a proportion of the students bought the book themselves. The current and future HE landscape is only serving to heighten their expectations.
      We would welcome further comment on this issue from all perspectives.

      Dominic Broadhurst
      University of Manchester

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