Over the last academic year, an essential part of our work in providing certain cohorts of students with their own e-text book was to find out exactly what they thought of them. This would help us to both ensure we are obtaining maximum value for our acquisitions but also crucially to shape our future work, in particular for an expanded set of pilots for the academic year. Anecdotal feedback was collected from the students via comments from their lecturers but we also undertook some more formal feedback. This included an online survey, which was distributed directly to our students, plus a series of focus groups where we could explore the issues in more depth. Some of the key findings we uncovered both confirmed and disproved some of our assumptions. Further results will be released at a series of conference presentations over the next year but some key findings included:
- Convenience and access are still the biggest drivers for our students
- 88% indicated they read the e-book at least once (but extensive use was much lower)
- Enhanced features such as highlighting, note taking and sharing were not used in a widespread manner
- Less than 15% actually printed excerpts from the e-books
- Laptops were the favoured device to access the e-books, with desktop PCs also being popular. Although mobile device usage was seen as highly desirable this did not lead to significant usage via these devices
In summary this led us to make a number of changes (and dare we say improvements) to our e-book pilots for this academic year. What we learnt from last year’s pilots was critical to our work and for this year including:
- Devise more tailored support tools for our students to ensure they maximise all the capabilities of the e-book and, where applicable, actually download to one or more of their devices
- Begin the dialogue with our academics as soon as possible and ideally provide them with access to the e-book over the summer so they can integrate it as widely as possible into their teaching. This meant of course concluding negotiations with publishers as early as possible (often easier said than done!)
- Ensure we both access and analyse usage date sooner and in greater detail
- Revise and upgrade our means of collecting and analysing student feedback, predominantly through an improved online survey and looking at the future structure and content of our student focus groups.
Armed with all this information and analysis we have now begun an expanded series of e-textbook pilots for academic year 15/16, more details of which will appear on this blog in the near future.
Dominic Broadhurst, University of Manchester Library
photo credit: Eirik Newth via flickr (license)
As mentioned in an earlier post, several student library ambassadors at The University of Manchester attended an e-book conference during which they sat on a question panel to discuss the subject of e-books and core text provision in higher education. From the accounts submitted after the event, several central themes regarding student e-book usage have emerged.
Students recognise that e-books offer convenience, portability and accessibility. All the students involved mentioned the benefits of not having to carry unwieldy printed books around campus and the reassurance of knowing that their core texts were available to them wherever and whenever they needed them.
Free access to the electronic texts via institutional subscriptions was also highly valued. Even with (relatively) cheap second-hand copies of textbooks available via bookshops and Amazon, purchasing copies of every recommended text would be prohibitively expensive.
Despite these advantages, the use of e-books across courses remains uneven, with students on some courses reporting that they rarely use them at present. This is in part due to entrenched practices in some subjects (where purchasing the print version of a core text is expected), but also because of low levels of awareness about what is available. Many students on courses where e-books were made available through the Library pilots had not been aware of the need to download the text to get permanent access and utilise the full range of functionality available. Others reported frustration more generally with the complexity of accessing e-books across multiple platforms. There was a clear message that students would like better support and guidance in this area.
Finally, several students noted that despite living in a “digital age” in which online access to information is the norm, one particular aspect of reading the hard copy of a book for study endures – it appears that many students still like scribbling notes in margins, sticking post-its into pages and marking sections of text with highlighter pens (hopefully only in their personal copies!) and some are hesitant to move these activities online. Better promotion of the highlighting and annotation features available in e-books may well shift the balance over time. In the meantime, all the students recognised that having electronic access to a text is far preferable to not getting hold of it at all!
photo credit: Things lying about via photopin (license)
The Books Right Here project is concerned with meeting student expectations in relation to Library provision of recommended textbooks. A review of recent survey results makes interesting reading as the themes that emerged around course reading and e-books are definitely in line with the issues the project is trying address.
The University of Manchester Library conducted two major pieces of market research in 2013/14 and had over 2,000 responses, giving us a statistically significant bank of information to draw upon.
One piece of research looked at students’ perceptions of Library services; the other focused specifically on the digital environment and also included academics.
So what did our users tell us?
Students’ expectations of course reading
- Over 90% of students felt that for core course reading the Library should make an electronic copy available to all students on the course
- Only 46% of students stated that they were happy to buy books for their course
- The vast majority of students thought that all of the books on their reading lists should be available in the Library (91%) and that all of their reading lists should be available online and on one place (86%)
How are students reading?
- When asked questions about the way they read, most students stated that they read a mix of electronic and hard copies with the overall preference leaning towards electronic
- Users also expressed frustration that e-books currently accessed via the Library did not have the functionality and advantages that they expected in electronic texts, such as printing, downloading and highlighting capability
What can we learn from this?
It is often reported that students prefer printed books but it may be that they are unimpressed by the e-book experience that is currently offered to them.
Our students are telling us that they want the Library to provide more books in electronic format for their core reading but they are dissatisfied with their experience of using the e-books we currently provide.
One of the questions we intend to address is whether providing seamless access to an interactive e-book via Blackboard will make for a better user experience.
We are going to investigate this and the other issues raised by investigating students’ experiences of taking part in our e-book pilots.
Sarah Rayner, Project Manager
photo credit: albertogp123 via photopin cc