‘What the students told us’: a VitalSource/ Plymouth University case study


As the largest UK supplier of e-textbooks, with more than 51,000 users, VitalSource prioritises staying close to students.  In addition to regularly holding student panels, we’ve developed a case study with Plymouth University, reporting reactions to their institution-wide digital textbook programme.  They wanted every student to have access to essential course content, regardless of their financial situation, so they supplied more than 4000 students with digital access to all required titles.


Plymouth achieved exceptionally high levels of awareness and approval for the project.  Their survey showed that 82% of students used their eTextbook online or downloaded it onto at least one device.

Of course, there was a small group of students that hadn’t used their e-textbooks. Reassuringly for institutions rolling out digital content, only one of them said this was because they didn’t want them. The vast majority simply needed more communication. 92% of those agreed that the programme was a good idea. Feedback echoed our student panels, welcoming the convenience and the opportunity to save money:

“… fewer books to pay for. E-books are always there when you need them…”

The student responses also challenged the perception that reading onscreen is problematic.  More than 70% of those using e-textbooks found them easy to read. This may have included students with print-related disabilities, for whom e-textbooks offer a significantly improved and inclusive experience. The ability to search for keywords was seen as an advantage and an encouragement to read around a subject.

A similar number of students stated that the programme had made it easier to carry out their recommended reading:

“it motivated me to do more reading”

E-textbooks freed them from the cost and ‘hassle’ of getting hold of their course books, and the delay of waiting for library copies, meaning they could organise their time better and learn more efficiently.

“I could just go on my phone and find the information that I needed.”

During focus group sessions, several students acknowledged that they had been nervous at the outset of the project and might have preferred print, given the choice.  This was particularly the case for first year students who were overwhelmed by the transition to university. However, once they got started, they found e-textbooks straightforward to use and download.  They loved the fact that they could link to their own copy of the book from the VLE. Practical advantages of digital, such as portability, any-time access and the ability to search, copy and paste outweighed any nostalgia for print.

Students were also appreciative of the ways in which their lecturers were using e-textbooks to add to the learning experience, for example by including references in teaching material or using the ‘Share Notes’ feature, which allows lecturers to add their own notes and highlights to e-textbooks and share them with their students.

Asked whether they would like e-textbooks next year, the focus group responded with a resounding “Yes!”.

To request the full case study contact Karen.Coles@ingramcontent.com

Becky Hartnup, Ingram Content

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