Monthly Archives: March 2016

There’s no such thing as a free pizza! Our e-book and pizza training event


As part of our ongoing efforts to maximise student usage of our e-textbook pilots, working with Vitalsource, we decided to host a lunchtime e-book and pizza training event for our students.  We hoped to entice the students in – not only to increase their awareness and use of the e-book provided – but also so they might champion the benefits to their peers, the ‘carrot’ being the free pizza (but not as a topping!)

Being billed as a training event to help students maximise the benefits of using their e-books, we decided to initially invite just those who were about to embark on their semester two modules at the beginning of February. This would involve 15 pilots, meaning the invitation could potentially reach over 2,000 students across the University, a concern as the room we had booked could only hold a maximum of 40!  There was a fine line between managing expectations, getting a good spread across disciplines and drawing in enough students to make the event worthwhile.  Eventbrite was used to manage the event and invitations were sent out to the students via their lecturers leading on the pilots.

As it turned out, we had a flurry of bookings from one School and a couple of bookings from two others, not the even spread across Schools or the numbers we had hoped for.

On the day itself, despite the logistical problems of Domino’s being able to deliver 14 large pizzas and drinks to a pedestrianised area of the University campus and having cleared the fact that we were going to be eating hot food within a no-eat zone of the Library, not as many  students turned up as has originally booked. Fortunately a couple of them brought some hungry friends from the same course which bumped up the numbers considerably!

Interestingly, we also ran a couple of focus groups with Semester one students later on the same day, but these were incentivised with £15 Amazon vouchers – the take up was much higher which perhaps says a lot about the value to students of free pizza versus hard cash!

Needless to say the pizzas were demolished pretty quickly and the students settled down to watch a demonstration of how to use all the features available via the Vitalsource Bookshelf platform.   They looked engaged and many questions were asked, especially about the ‘help’ features available.

vital source

Would we do it again? We’d have to think carefully but as one of the students said at the end, he had found the session so useful that he would be sharing what he had learnt via his cohort’s student forum.  This is exactly what we had been hoping for!

Flora Bourne, University of Manchester Library

The digital textbook as connected content

In the first of a two-part post, Talis’ Justin Leavesley talks about the transformative possibilities of connected content and Project Lighthouse.


Digital content is important, but connected content could be transformative for teaching and learning

The transition from physical to digital textbooks is important for many reasons. But alone is it transformative for teaching and learning?

If digital textbooks remain little more than an electronic facsimile of their physical counterparts then maybe, as important as this is, we should not expect an outsized impact on teaching and learning. In addition, there are aspects of studying with digital books that are just not as natural as with physical books. The user interface of a physical textbook is particularly easy to navigate and make personal study notes on for example.

Digital technologies have transformed so many parts of our lives that it seems hard to believe that in some way, at some point, the digital shift of core teaching materials won’t have a transformative effect.

It can be useful to consider how other recent technology transitions, such as mobile technology, have unfolded.

In the first phase of mobile communications, a mobile phone was not much different from a fixed line phone, except it was mobile. They were, in essence, a mobile facsimile of a fixed line phone. It was mostly a passive device, unaware of our personal context or our connections beyond a simple contacts list.

This was the first phase of telephony “going mobile”. This phase ended with the introduction of the smartphone. With the advent of smartphones, the mobile phone became not just mobile telephony, but mobile connectivity. Devices capable of really understanding our personal physical context (like our actual location for maps and navigation) and maintaining our virtual connections, like email or Facebook, wherever we went. Today, making a telephone call is only one of the things that we use mobile phones for. Having a phone that was mobile was definitely an important step forward, and a prerequisite for more, but smartphones are transformative.

We might expect to see a similar pattern for textbooks, and other teaching resources such as the lecture video. A first phase as digital facsimile, followed by a more profound evolution as the unique possibilities of digital are exploited.

If so, then the question becomes: what is beyond the facsimile phase of digital textbooks? What does the textbook as connected content look like or mean? What kinds of connections should they support?

At Talis we have been running a research project, Project Lighthouse, to build a new kind of digital content player designed to turn any kind of existing digital content into connected content.  We have been piloting this “connected content player” with academics and students to explore how connected content might enhance teaching and learning.

Justin Leavesley, Talis

We’ll be hearing more from Justin, on the context of connected content, in the near future.