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