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.
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