Monthly Archives: July 2016

A pizza for your thoughts…

Before the BRHRN blog takes a well-earned summer vacation we thought we’d leave you with some thoughts and themes from our pizza-powered student focus groups, looking at our semester 1 pilots.

focus group

The focus groups were facilitated by Becky Hartnup and Karen Coles; our partners at VitalSource.  Two sets of students were given questions and prompts on a range of aspects of our eTextbook provision, such as their knowledge of the scheme, how they have found using the eTextbooks provided, and whether they’d like to see the scheme repeated in the future.

One theme that we have seen in recent weeks is the issue of cost.  Our students said:

‘I was happy. I don’t have to pay for it. Don’t have to find it. I won’t use it after this.’

‘Good. I don’t have to buy it.’

‘Your grade does vary a lot if you have the book or you don’t. The cost does put you off (£50) and it can affect your grade.’

‘I don’t have much money to buy textbooks because it is very expensive.’

On the features of the eTextbooks and how the students used them:

‘I quite like to write things down. I wasn’t sure how I was going to learn. I find I prefer it because if I have downtime, on the bus, I can do some revision’

‘If you have them on the phone you go through making notes about relevant topics. Carrying them around is such a pain.’

‘I use out and about – on the bus, waiting for a friend. It’s convenient.’

Positively, the finance students in the group reported that their lecturer had shared notes. Others stated that links to the relevant reading were provided within the VLE.

On problems faced and improvements that can be made to future offerings:

Some of the titles made available in the scheme were PDFs.  These titles were not reflowable, and students stated that they had difficulty viewing tables and diagrams, particularly on smaller screens.  Unfortunately, one student found the difficulties to be a real deterrent:

‘Because I find the ebook really hard to use I try to use it not that often.’

Other issues mentioned were eye strain when reading for long periods and reduced engagement when reading from a screen.  Some students were aware that they could print, but saw this as an expensive option.

Our colleagues at VitalSource took away a number of things which I think are useful to all of us involved in eTextbook provision:

  • Ensure students are briefed on the level of experience they can expect and on customer services routes.
  • There is a lot of information to take in at the beginning of term! Refresher sessions could be provided at the start of each half term.
  • One university has set up a peer to peer support group where enthusiastic student users provide help to their cohort.

Finally, and bittersweet to librarians, a comment on the usefulness of eTextbooks:

‘I don’t have to go to the library.’

(We do more than just books you know!)

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester

Student preferences: Academic Reading Format International Study

computer book

In our previous two posts, Marwan and Joe provided us with an insight into what students at the University of Manchester think about the BRHRN e-textbook provision.  From simple positives, such as the savings made in not having to purchase course textbooks, to more complex ideas about the relationship between reader and text, the preferences of these two students were mixed.

Juliana Ríos Amaya and Jane Secker at the London School of Economics have recently published their findings on students’ preferences for academic reading.  Their report, ‘Choosing between print and electronic… Or keeping both? Academic Reading Format International Study’ represents the UK findings of an international study into student preferences in this area, ARFIS (on Facebook).

In researching student preferences, the authors surveyed 655 students from a number of UK universities.  Their results were divided into two categories: the first looking at behaviours or preferences which reflect student reading preferences; and the second with a focus on learning engagement.

In the first category, 42% of students strongly agreed and 28% agreed that they preferred their course materials in print format.  Looking at the reasons for this figure may elucidate Joe’s comments about the students’ ‘relationship’ with the text: 52% strongly agreed and 28% agreed that they can focus better on the text when in print; 42% strongly agreed and 29% agreed that they can remember information from their course readings when in print.

When it came to convenience, responses were split.  In response to the statement “It is more convenient to read my assigned readings electronically than to read them in print”, 25% of those surveyed agreed, with 27% in disagreement.  A respondent from LSE, in agreeing with the statement, commented that accessing course resources electronically “…saves carrying around a lot of paper”, echoing sentiments expressed by Marwan.  Other comments centred on the convenience in accessing electronic resources on the one hand, and the ease of using printed materials on the other.  Jane highlighted a comment in her blog post  on the findings, where the academic task being carried out influence the student’s preferences.  This tallies with Joe’s comments and his hunt for specific quotes and references.

The ARFIS UK findings also mirror feedback we have received from the BRHRN 2014/15 pilots.  While our students found it easier to read and take in information printed texts, they also found it much more straightforward to gain access to electronic resources, as well as finding them more convenient.  We will be looking at the feedback we received from our 2014/15 pilots in more detail in the near future.

Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester

photo credit: Frank Farm via flickr (license)

Reading: ‘Ain’t nobody got time for that’

This time out, University of Manchester student Joe Walsh gives us his opinions on e-books.

no time

Ain’t nobody got time for that… The popular phrase that went viral, I feel, is a fitting summary to the way the world works today and that includes education.  This a world in which people get frustrated if Google takes 3 seconds to load; 15 years ago I was quite content to wait a 20 minutes for dial up. This type of attitude can quickly spill into the rest of our lives including the way we learn. The thought of churning through textbooks just to find a few useful references seems like a nightmare and raises the question that surely there is a better way? I have found myself falling into the trap of using a variety of websites, offering links to a whole host of e-books on any subject you can imagine. These sites have proved useful on more than one occasion in finding exactly what I need for an assignment within a matter of minutes. This being said it would be hard to persuade myself to spend all that effort in rummaging through a never ending library, finding several books and then scavenging for that reference several hours later. You could argue that I am over exaggerating; however, if I asked you to find a specific quote in this blog post would you read through all of it or simply press Ctrl+F and then search for the key words?

To see another side to the page (see what I did there?); if one were to do as I asked they would miss that hilarious pun, along with the points I have mentioned throughout. If we do the same when it comes to academic research can we also miss out?  Are e-books a danger to our education system and can you really get the same experience from an e-book as a reliable paper back? There are those who claim that you can’t have the same ‘relationship’ with a text in digital form and there are those who enjoy that freedom to connect with the text to make annotations and to physically hold it. Overall not only do they find it easier to read but enjoy feeling part of the text and consequently get a much ‘richer’ experience. Perhaps that’s what it all comes down to; what experience the reader is looking for. I’m not saying we should read too much into this (stop me I’m on fire) but the truth is why can’t you have both? With software available now on web browsers such as Microsoft Edge you can make annotations on e-books just as easily as with pen and paper. If both were available within the library then students have the choice of either physical or digital. Film production companies realise that people will probably find their own digital copy, so they provide digital copies to go along with the DVD. Can’t publishers do the same with e-books? If both physical copies and digital links could be found in the library then students would have the choice like they always have: do it last minute and rush through or actually study and do the research through whatever medium suits them, their needs, and their preferences.

I’m not saying that this blog post is a page turner or a best seller (I couldn’t resist) but I am going off my own experience and the truth is that both ways are fine. Therefore, in this world of plenty, why are we arguing over which medium is best for our libraries, as I previously mentioned ‘Aint nobody got time for that’.

Joe Walsh, University of Manchester student

photo credit: Paul Downey via flickr (license)