So autumn is here, along with our new and returning students. Thousands of students now have their core texts embedded within their virtual learning environment, ready to study from over the course of the semester. Before the summer (…how long ago that now seems!) we heard the views of two students who took part in our 2015/16 pilot and the finding from colleagues working on the ARFIS project on student reading preferences. As ‘Welcome Week’ comes to an end and our students gear up for the academic year ahead, it seems a good time to revisit the aims of the Books Right Here Right Now project and how they hope to meet the needs of our students.
Central to the project’s aim of ‘reinventing recommended reading’ has been our e-book pilots – looking at innovative ways of ensuring that our students have access to the key textbooks for their courses. Much of the discussion around reading preferences, including the opinions of our students, suggests that students enjoy the convenience of having e-books provided but still appreciate the experience of studying from a physical copy, with words like ‘relationship’ and ‘connection’ used to describe that experience.
So why focus on providing e-books? As we’ll all recognise, many key textbooks are very expensive (in both print and electronic format) as they are a major source of revenue for academic publishers; in times where budgets across the University are under increased scrutiny, providing both print and electronic formats is not viable. Increased tuition fees have created heightened expectations of the library’s provision, placing further strain on budgets. Purchasing models has been a regular theme on this blog, showing that we haven’t achieved the perfect solution yet!
But enough of the negatives! We believe that in providing an electronic copy of those key textbooks to each and every student on a course we offer an equality of access we would be unable to achieve otherwise. This 1:1 ratio means that students who cannot afford to buy a copy for themselves are not at a disadvantage. Knowing that all students have access to the recommended content allows our academic staff to better plan and deliver their course.
Beyond the immediate benefits of convenient personal access, developments in e-textbook technology and content will hopefully help to foster a new ‘relationship’ and ‘connection’ with the text. We’ve heard previously about ‘connected content’ and considered some of the possibilities a move from the shackles of physicality might provide. It will be interesting to monitor whether these benefits will change the perceptions of e-books among students.
Michael Stevenson, University of Manchester
The new academic year is almost upon us and the students are soon to arrive – for those working in academic libraries this is always an exciting time. Of course during those summer months much of the work undertaken is in preparation for their arrival.
This has certainly been the case at Manchester where we have been working on the third and final year of e-textbook pilots for our students. As with previous years we have looked to expand both the number of titles and the number of our students who receive their own individual e-textbook. In addition we have continued to test new acquisition and supply modules looking to extract maximum value for the Library and University, as well as additional functionality for our students and academic colleagues. A further detailed breakdown will be available on the blog in the near future, but the table below provides a summary of activity to date:
||No. of titles
||No. of students
(*) this figure will rise with new Semester 2 titles in January 2017
Additionally this year we have worked with some new publishers, whilst continuing our dialogue with existing publishers. Further work is needed on establishing more viable and realistic pricing modules and we continue to enjoy regular discussion with our publishing colleagues around this! Pricing centred on usage is now standard and we have begun discussions drilling down on this aspect further. We are analysing the incidences of single usage and what the accompanying price here should be, having had some success with the more progressive publishers.
In the last few months we have also gathered and analysed a wide range of data taken from our own research. This includes students’ use and perception of the e-textbook pilot itself, as well as their thoughts on their use and perceptions of e-textbooks in general. In the last year we have also undertaken some research looking to correlate the use of these e-textbooks with student attainment. We will be providing more information on all of this in the future.
What has also become evident, especially over the last year, is the increased level of interest and activity from UK HE libraries. This has either resulted from requests from senior management in their institutions asking them to look at provision, or from the libraries themselves who seek to enhance teaching and learning in their universities and incorporate this activity alongside more traditional library acquisitions. This work, together with increased involvement from JISC who have also set up an e-textbook strategy advisory group, bodes well for future development of pricing models and ultimately the overall learning experience of students across the UK.
Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester