Monthly Archives: December 2015

US perceptions of the e-text landscape: part 2


My exploration into digital textbooks began at the University of Central Florida in 2012, when the Vice President of the Center for Distributed Learning called for members of the Instructional Design team to summarize the trends, identify key players, understand what options were available, and grasp how instructors and students could potentially benefit from their use. The timing of this call was not surprising, as textbook affordability was a growing concern among universities in the United States. In 2012, college students were spending an average of $1100 per year on books; three years later the cost has increased to $1200.

As lead of the eTextbook sub-team, I realized that we had little understanding of the digital landscape on our own campus. This forced us to begin a grass-roots movement whose efforts can be categorized as: forming relationships with stakeholders on campus; building a baseline in order to track trends; and sharing what we’re learning with the university community.

Identifying stakeholders on campus

We met with the most obvious first: the textbook managers at the campus bookstore, where only 1% of book sales were in digital form. We received a demonstration of the digital platform and are now doing informal testing. This led to the creation of a Digital Course Materials page, to share the university’s materials ordering policy, information about the digital platform, and textbook alternatives. We’ve joined their Bookstore Innovation Group which represents students, faculty, and administrators, with the goal of sharing insights and ideas. We also formed an eTextbook special interest group in order to share best practices, foster research opportunities, and support classroom integration. Several products have come out of this group, including a Flipboard magazine, a blog about eTextbook research, and an article about the creation and processes of the group. One of the highlights was support for a faculty member who incorporated Flipboard into his course, allowing students to create a digital magazine. The research results were reported in the Flipboard blog, presented at an international conference in 2015, with an article to be published in Tech Trends in the near future.

Collecting data about student use on campus

In 2012 we deployed a university-wide survey to faculty and students. We found that 42% of students reported using an eTextbook at least once in their college studies, but were mixed about the learning effectiveness, engagement and sense of community. One of our recommendations is to establish a faculty focus group, recruited from the faculty members who participated in the survey. The idea is to address and clarify issues emerging from the survey in order to drive future research, and investigate how faculty are currently using eTextbooks in the classroom. We conducted a follow-up survey in 2014 to see how the trends had evolved and are currently preparing to run the survey again in 2016. This helps us understand and share trends.

Disseminating the information to faculty

A page about eTextbook ordering was created to explain the various options for procuring eTextbooks. We created an open online course for UCF instructors. Called eTextbook Essentials, it covers topics such as the overview of eTextbooks, device usage and formats, common barriers to integration, and examples to help people learn to integrate eTextbooks into their courses. It also details university-specific policies, resources, and access.

Our current and future work includes partnering with librarians who are interested in offering resources beyond textbooks, and a document analysis of the contracts for the public system in Florida universities, to see how digital materials are referenced.

Aimee deNoyelles, Instructional Designer, University of Central Florida

photo credit Day 83 via Flickr (license)

Are publishers actually giving us what we want, or what they want?


As an academic, I am continually pressed by publishers to look at their online products.   Publishers seem to have a fantasy that we will be seduced into signing up to (and then becoming dependent on) subscription services.  Many large corporations have the same goal.  I expect it is taught on MBAs, and it will certainly sound good to their shareholders.  Some corporations have been very successful with this model.

However, I can’t see it being successful in the UK (beyond a few niches).  Perhaps the problem is that most of these companies are actually only UK subsidiaries of US based multinationals, and it is in the US that strategy is being set. Indeed, UK managers, if you catch them in the right mood, will often agree that this approach is unlikely to make much headway.

Whether it is due to group strategy being set for the US rather than UK market or not, the impression is that a number of publishers aren’t as agile or creative as they like to suggest.  They are unable to respond to customer demand, and are tied up with rigid strategies to provide what they want us to want rather than what we do want.

The personal copies of texts approach that several universities are already trying to develop could be wildly successful in the UK if priced reasonably, but my experience is that many aren’t set up to cope with ideas emanating from their customers.  Being the publisher’s customer can be hard work.

You can get people at a certain level to understand, but they often seem to fail to convince others further up the chain – perhaps in the US – that the UK market is different and that giving us what we want at an affordable price could be a solution to many of their problems.  Perhaps those online products that they show us are part of the problem.  Publishers must have invested enormous amounts in their development, with reputations of entire senior management teams pegged to their success.  Why supply personal copies of core texts when the corporate strategy is to get users on the adaptive learning system they have invested so much cash in?

Perhaps those of us who share the vision of supplying students with personal copies of their core textbooks need to work together to give senior publishing executives hard evidence that:

1) UK HEIs really aren’t interested in subscribing to walled garden adaptive learning systems in the way private colleges in the US might be – almost regardless of price.

2) UK universities would be very, very interested in providing personal copies of (interactive please!) ePub versions of all core texts to all their students if they could get them at the right price.

 Phil Gee, University of Plymouth

photo credit Gracie via photopin (license)