Tag Archives: academics

Are publishers actually giving us what we want, or what they want?

3737357415_cd94a60f00_o

As an academic, I am continually pressed by publishers to look at their online products.   Publishers seem to have a fantasy that we will be seduced into signing up to (and then becoming dependent on) subscription services.  Many large corporations have the same goal.  I expect it is taught on MBAs, and it will certainly sound good to their shareholders.  Some corporations have been very successful with this model.

However, I can’t see it being successful in the UK (beyond a few niches).  Perhaps the problem is that most of these companies are actually only UK subsidiaries of US based multinationals, and it is in the US that strategy is being set. Indeed, UK managers, if you catch them in the right mood, will often agree that this approach is unlikely to make much headway.

Whether it is due to group strategy being set for the US rather than UK market or not, the impression is that a number of publishers aren’t as agile or creative as they like to suggest.  They are unable to respond to customer demand, and are tied up with rigid strategies to provide what they want us to want rather than what we do want.

The personal copies of texts approach that several universities are already trying to develop could be wildly successful in the UK if priced reasonably, but my experience is that many aren’t set up to cope with ideas emanating from their customers.  Being the publisher’s customer can be hard work.

You can get people at a certain level to understand, but they often seem to fail to convince others further up the chain – perhaps in the US – that the UK market is different and that giving us what we want at an affordable price could be a solution to many of their problems.  Perhaps those online products that they show us are part of the problem.  Publishers must have invested enormous amounts in their development, with reputations of entire senior management teams pegged to their success.  Why supply personal copies of core texts when the corporate strategy is to get users on the adaptive learning system they have invested so much cash in?

Perhaps those of us who share the vision of supplying students with personal copies of their core textbooks need to work together to give senior publishing executives hard evidence that:

1) UK HEIs really aren’t interested in subscribing to walled garden adaptive learning systems in the way private colleges in the US might be – almost regardless of price.

2) UK universities would be very, very interested in providing personal copies of (interactive please!) ePub versions of all core texts to all their students if they could get them at the right price.

 Phil Gee, University of Plymouth

photo credit Gracie via photopin (license)

“Pick a text, any text”: understanding what students are asked to read

5361809601_98b557ea83_b

A fundamental part of getting the e-book project here at Manchester off the ground has been establishing effective ways to work with faculties and schools in the efficient identification and mapping of recommended texts. This might sound easy but was actually very complex!

After getting buy-in to the principles of the project as a whole, the Academic Engagement team carried out a consultation process across campus, with discussions focused on the coordinated collation of the key texts being recommended for each module.

Our interest lay not only in finding out how we might improve the ways we get hold of this information but also in the degree of flexibility regarding the texts being recommended. If an e-book version of a key text is not available, would a lecturer consider recommending an alternative? Are issues of access enough of a reason to change a recommendation, or are certain textbooks absolutely fundamental to the teaching of a particular unit?

Initial responses to the principles of the project were very positive:

“It’s a no-brainer. I suggest that if publishers do not agree to negotiate, lecturers would consider changing core texts to put pressure on them.”

“This is clearly a timely and much-needed innovation by the library’”

Our discussions also helped us identify and understand a number of issues or potential barriers we will need to take account of during the project:

Discipline specific issues

  • Some lecturers do not use even one ‘core text’ in their teaching
  • Some lecturers are resistant to working with e-books, often based on their own and their students’ previous experiences – “…they keep crashing, take a long time to load and it’s difficult to concentrate for a long period of time on screen”
  • There are concerns about dictating to students which of the texts on their reading lists should be considered essential (with the implication that others can be ignored)
  • Programmes with smaller cohorts have far fewer problems with the availability of core recommended texts

School specific

  • Some schools have complex internal structures and organisational models, making school-level coordination of processes difficult – “It’s a good idea in theory but difficult in practice for a multidiscipline school to keep up to date”
  • Ideally, schools would identify an individual to take on the responsibility of coordination for the entire school and ensure that all staff were sending in details of their chosen texts, but this is easier said than done

University-wide 

  • There are concerns about time constraints and placing additional administrative burdens on staff
  • Some staff cited the difficulty of choosing one key text from a list of books that were all considered ‘core reading’
  • Submitting changes each year well in advance of the teaching timetable is a problem as decisions on which text will be used are not always made that early (though the implementation of a university policy regarding inclusive teaching will push this issue to the fore over the coming year)

So, what is the upshot of all this work?

We know that we will need to take into account all the different ways that schools and academics work but also that we need to introduce much simpler ways of obtaining this information – and working with it!

Olivia Walsby, Academic Engagement Librarian, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Science Online Book Display via photopin (license)

Semester one pilots: an academic’s perspective

“Knowing the students had access, and there was no excuse to not engage with the text, gave me confidence that they would be prepared… it ensured that the assessment element of the module could be explicit to the content of the text.”

academic view 2

In our January e-book pilots update we mentioned that part of our evaluation would include consultations with our academic colleagues to gain their perspective on the pilots. This has provided valuable information, not only on how we should manage any future pilots, but also in understanding what impact seamless access has had (or could potentially have) for their teaching and the overall student experience.

One pilot was for a management and leisure module within Manchester Institute of Education. As the core text is also used across a number of other modules in other schools (meaning there are large cohorts of students competing to borrow the text from the Library), the academic colleague co-ordinating the module was keen to be involved and excited at the prospect of being able to guarantee access to the text for all of his students.

He felt the pilot was a very positive experience and appreciated the support of the Library in setting up the e-book within his Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), as well as providing supporting materials and running through the key features with his students. The book was easily accessible, the download options were straightforward and he saw great potential in the highlighting and sharing functionality of the text.

During our discussion the word “confident” came up many times.  He felt confident – knowing that all students had access to the text – to set week by week reading and was able to build links at appropriate points in his VLE to the relevant chapters. He felt much more confident when planning the assessment that this could be tailored specifically around the text and that the students could rely on the text to increase their level of thinking and understanding of the subject.

Given more time, he would have planned the teaching to make better use of the additional functionality. Although appreciating the highlighting feature, he was hesitant to highlight sections of the text for his students, concerned that they would limit their reading to these areas rather than exploring the text as a whole. However, he could see real potential for this to be used in seminars, group work or exam preparation. With regards to the future, he felt that this should be the way forward, although it would have (positive) implications for teaching:

“… to introduce texts in this way would require a cultural shift for teaching and for learning. It has an impact on how you teach, how you can build your teaching more around the text and its functionality to engage the students and add value not only to your course but to the student experience.”

On a final positive note, not one student contacted him to say they could not access the text – an academic’s dream!

Janette Watson, Academic Engagement Librarian, University of Manchester

photo credit: ISC Orientation Week 2nd Meeting Spring 2012 via photopin (license)

One academic’s perspective: “Thanks, but no thanks”

large_6245030138

The success of our reading list project will depend to a great extent on how well the Library works with our academic colleagues to understand student reading behaviour, identify core texts and implement e-book pilots.

There has been a considerable amount of work involved in establishing pilots to run in the 2014/15 academic year, from checking for suitable titles and availability to working with academics to run and evaluate the pilot projects with their students.

Given the perceived benefit of providing all students on a course with a personal copy of an electronic core text, we might have assumed that academics would be queueing up to get involved. While many have been keen to work with us, others have been more reticent.

One academic questioned the pedagogical impact of using e-books instead of print, referring to emerging research indicating that reading on paper is more effective than reading online. While electronic journals were seen as an effective way to get around limited access to content, “putting texts online is something else”.

The same member of staff also expressed concerns about the future of academic bookshops, stating that they are a valued presence on campus that may be under threat in the long term.

We have to listen to these concerns and take them on board. We know from our consultations with students that lack of access to core texts is a major problem and that a majority of students want – and expect – to be able to access texts electronically, increasingly on portable devices, without additional financial cost to themselves.

However, we also want to enhance the teaching and learning experience of academic staff and students. We have built evaluation and analysis into the pilot process and we are hoping to get back some detailed, qualitative information about the pedagogical implications (good or bad) of using e-books.

Queries and concerns from our academic colleagues are helping to inform the questions we will ask at the end of the pilot projects and serve as a useful reminder that we can’t assume automatic ‘buy-in’ from everyone we approach. We need to keep listening and keep the conversations going to make this a success.

photo credit: IMAGEngineForAutism via photopin cc