Tag Archives: core texts

E-textbooks: lightening the load!

You’ve heard (plenty!) about what we think about e-textbooks – but what do our students think?


The financial burden for course textbooks is a lot; especially for an economics degree.  I found it hard to cope with the financial demand with 12 modules to buy textbooks for, where each textbook would cost around £50. I would then turn to the library for physical copies however the ratio of books per student within the library were very low, for example 4 textbooks for the 300 students on the course. This left me feeling frustrated and wanting an alternative. Fortunately in my second year I had been introduced to the e-book scheme which allowed me to access my course textbooks for free online. Compared to my first year where I was less inclined to buy books due to the financial burden (which affected my degree performance), I felt like this was a great opportunity  provided by the University to save money and perform better within my degree.

I initially had doubts about the practicality of e-books. This was due to the fact I had only used e-books in PDF format. However the bookshelf software is smooth and slick, I am able to access my e-books on numerous devices, including my phone and tablet, which comes in handy if I wanted to access the books on the go. I am able to also highlight important sections in the book and write comments. This was very useful during my exam period as I could go back over quickly what I had noted at the start of the semester. These practical features on bookshelf that were not available on a physical copy had made a huge difference within my learning experience. The cloud of books on my bookshelf provides another layer of practicality as I do not need to carry around heavy 500 page books to and from university anymore!

I hope to see more e-books available for my future courses; it is cheap and effective way of providing all students with access to their course textbooks!

Marwan Mohamed, University of Manchester student

photo credit: Garry Knight via flickr (license)

US perceptions of the e-text landscape: part 3

In the final post of her three part series, Aimee delves deeper into the research conducted at the University of Central Florida (UCF) to better understand the digital landscape on campus. Part one looked at the trends contributing to an underwhelming use of eTextbooks in the US higher education system and part two described Aimee’s professional journey with eTextbooks at UCF.


To better understand the digital landscape on campus, we distributed surveys to UCF students about eTextbooks in 2012 and 2014, and have just completed one in 2016. While the findings cannot be generalized to US higher education institutions as a whole, they do confirm some trends that have been discovered in other research studies.

eTextbook use

Over the four-year period from 2012 to 2016, eTextbook use at UCF has increased dramatically. In 2012, 42% of participating students indicated they had used an eTextbook at least once in their college studies. In 2014, the percentage increased to 60%; in 2016, up to 73%. In just four years, eTextbook use has grown over 30%. This is remarkable, considering we do not have a specific campus initiative to use eTextbooks.

Regarding devices, the vast majority of students (80%) use the computer most frequently to access their eTextbooks. This number has remained steady over four years, despite increasing tablet ownership. 37% of students owned a tablet in 2012; 57% in 2014; and 59% in 2016. However, only around 12% of students said they used tablets most frequently to access eTextbooks in 2016; the same percentage was found in 2012.

When asked what kind of eTextbook students used, PDFs or ones that offered basic reading features were selected the most. We found a slight increase in eTextbooks with more interactive elements, such as simulations and note sharing. In 2014, 28% of students said they had used at least one eTextbook with interactive elements; in 2016, that had increased to 36%.

Influential factors for adoption

Lower cost remains the top factor in influencing students to select an eTextbook rather than a print textbook. Ability to access eTextbooks anywhere is the second most popular reason. The preference for print is still alive and well. In 2016, students that had never used an eTextbook in their college studies were asked to indicate reasons for this, and 73% said they preferred print. Preferring to sell back books for money at the end of the semester was a distant second.

Preferences for features have also remained quite steady. Reading features (searching for keywords, glossary) and study features (highlighting, annotating) were highly valued, while social features (sharing notes with peers) were less so.

Instructor role

Recognizing how important the instructor is to successful eTextbook integration, we asked students in 2014 about their instructors’ involvement. About 30% of students who had used eTextbooks before said that their instructors gave them instructions on how to access the book and told them who to contact for technical help. Similarly, around 30% also said that the instructor actually modelled how to effectively read and study from an eTextbook.


While eTextbook use is increasingly common, the reasons appear logistical (lower cost and convenience) rather than for pedagogical. The pedagogical side cannot be ignored. Publishers and providers of digital content need to increase the interactivity of the content in order to go beyond simple digital facsimiles of print versions. Additionally, instructors need to select eTextbooks with high quality features, as well as model the use of the eTextbook to show how to read and study effectively from the digital resource. This points to the need for professional development, with campus stakeholders such as librarians and instructional designers playing a defined role. At UCF, we have created a self-paced online course called eTextbook Essentials, which provides UCF instructors with an overview of the landscape, including common barriers to course integration and practical guides to assist with integration.

Aimee deNoyelles, Instructional Designer, University of Central Florida

US perceptions of the e-text landscape: part 2


My exploration into digital textbooks began at the University of Central Florida in 2012, when the Vice President of the Center for Distributed Learning called for members of the Instructional Design team to summarize the trends, identify key players, understand what options were available, and grasp how instructors and students could potentially benefit from their use. The timing of this call was not surprising, as textbook affordability was a growing concern among universities in the United States. In 2012, college students were spending an average of $1100 per year on books; three years later the cost has increased to $1200.

As lead of the eTextbook sub-team, I realized that we had little understanding of the digital landscape on our own campus. This forced us to begin a grass-roots movement whose efforts can be categorized as: forming relationships with stakeholders on campus; building a baseline in order to track trends; and sharing what we’re learning with the university community.

Identifying stakeholders on campus

We met with the most obvious first: the textbook managers at the campus bookstore, where only 1% of book sales were in digital form. We received a demonstration of the digital platform and are now doing informal testing. This led to the creation of a Digital Course Materials page, to share the university’s materials ordering policy, information about the digital platform, and textbook alternatives. We’ve joined their Bookstore Innovation Group which represents students, faculty, and administrators, with the goal of sharing insights and ideas. We also formed an eTextbook special interest group in order to share best practices, foster research opportunities, and support classroom integration. Several products have come out of this group, including a Flipboard magazine, a blog about eTextbook research, and an article about the creation and processes of the group. One of the highlights was support for a faculty member who incorporated Flipboard into his course, allowing students to create a digital magazine. The research results were reported in the Flipboard blog, presented at an international conference in 2015, with an article to be published in Tech Trends in the near future.

Collecting data about student use on campus

In 2012 we deployed a university-wide survey to faculty and students. We found that 42% of students reported using an eTextbook at least once in their college studies, but were mixed about the learning effectiveness, engagement and sense of community. One of our recommendations is to establish a faculty focus group, recruited from the faculty members who participated in the survey. The idea is to address and clarify issues emerging from the survey in order to drive future research, and investigate how faculty are currently using eTextbooks in the classroom. We conducted a follow-up survey in 2014 to see how the trends had evolved and are currently preparing to run the survey again in 2016. This helps us understand and share trends.

Disseminating the information to faculty

A page about eTextbook ordering was created to explain the various options for procuring eTextbooks. We created an open online course for UCF instructors. Called eTextbook Essentials, it covers topics such as the overview of eTextbooks, device usage and formats, common barriers to integration, and examples to help people learn to integrate eTextbooks into their courses. It also details university-specific policies, resources, and access.

Our current and future work includes partnering with librarians who are interested in offering resources beyond textbooks, and a document analysis of the contracts for the public system in Florida universities, to see how digital materials are referenced.

Aimee deNoyelles, Instructional Designer, University of Central Florida

photo credit Day 83 via Flickr (license)

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


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)

US perceptions of the e-text landscape


In American higher education, the textbook remains a foundational source of academic material, but their rising cost has been a hot topic in recent years. Prices have increased 82 percent from 2002 to 2012, now costing students an average of $1200 per year. The amount that students spend on course materials has recently declined, but only because the inflated expense drives students to sometimes avoid purchasing textbooks altogether. Recent governmental steps have been taken to increase the affordability of materials, such as the House of Representatives call for a program to utilize digital textbooks.

Over half of American college students have used an eTextbook in their studies, but only around 3% of textbook sales in the United States are digital. Institutional adoption of eTextbooks is low in the United States, as only 5% are broadly deploying them. Adoption in the United States is typically limited to pilots or individual faculty.

Why do these underwhelming trends exist? First, research on the user experience reveals mixed findings. Students appreciate the cost and portability but often experience issues with usability, device choice, and distractibility. In addition, reading digitally demands a different set of skills than printed texts, such as negotiating the text in a non-linear fashion and skillfully annotating. Instructors are not usually trained to support students in this way, and may assume that students already have these skills. On a technical level, there is no universal access eTextbooks and they come in all varieties: PDF and interactive; free and with cost; tablets and computers; available at the college bookstore and online. This fragmented landscape is often confusing for instructors when selecting resources. For these reasons and others, the preference for print remains in the United States.

Some exceptions are emerging to illuminate the digital landscape in the United States. Indiana University has an eTexts initiative program that partners with many publishers with the objective of driving down material costs, giving faculty access to high quality materials, developing new tools for teaching and learning, and shaping the terms of eTexts models. Boise State University offers an eTextbook Authoring Bootcamp, encouraging instructors to create their own digital books and share them freely with students. At our university, newly formed degree programs such as Integrated Business are interested in forgoing textbooks altogether and instead focusing on dynamic collections of online materials. To accomplish this, instructional designers and librarians are collaborating with instructors to create these repositories of various multimedia resources. The University of Maryland University College plans to eliminate textbooks and instead opt for open educational resources.

Several measures need to be addressed in order for this landscape to broaden in the United States. First, universities often enter legal agreements with external bookstores (such as Barnes and Noble). These contracts are often ironclad, with the bookstore being regarded as the “exclusive seller of digital materials.” These materials are often marked up 30%, higher than new or used print books. It is important that universities have the freedom to pursue and offer any educational materials that will benefit their teachers and learners. In addition, the role of the instructor is crucial. Instructors need training in supporting students to read digitally, and they need to learn how to model best practices as well. Support staff like librarians and instructional designers are helpful in this endeavor. Finally, research on the effectiveness of digital texts must be conducted and shared in order to gain support from university and instructors.

Aimee deNoyelles, Instructional Designer, University of Central Florida

photo credit: textbook-cycle via photopin (license)

Ebooks 2015: etextbooks, elearning, econtent


The Ebooks 2015 conference was held at University College London (UCL) in May 2015 and featured talks from academic libraries, JISC and publishers, with case studies from both the UK and USA.

A number of speakers addressed the issue of universities and libraries producing their own e-textbooks,some of which came about through JISC-funded projects. Roger Tritton, interim Head of Projects at JISC Collections, outlined the advantages that e-books bring to universities in helping to address the key issues of reusability, accessibility, interoperability and durability.

Sarah Lippincott, Program Manager of the Library Publishing Coalition in the States, has been tracking similar developments in the USA, while Kate Pitcher from the State University of New York at Geneseo presented a case study for Open SUNY Textbooks.

Other interesting examples of e-book developments included the partnership between Proquest and Cengage Australia, in which the initial pilot made seven e-textbooks available and was so successful that Cengage released another 20 titles in 2015, including many first runs.

Andrejs Alferovs, Managing Director of Kortext, presented on “Widening Access to Digital Textbooks”, looking at how teachers and learners are using digital textbooks online or via download. He showed how various tools can enhance the experience of reading to note-taking and how the creative use of content and platforms will evolve to enhance interaction. He also demonstrated the ways in which e-book usage data can help understand learning processes and inform teaching practice.

Slides from all of the presentations are available on the UCL website.

Lisa Wood, University of Manchester Library

photo credit: Main Building via photopin (license)

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


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


  • 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)

Election fever!


With the small matter of a general election around the corner that could have a major impact on both students and staff at universities, the buzz of activity at The University of Manchester in recent weeks has centred around the annual elections to the Executive of the University of Manchester Students Union.  For anyone working in higher education, the campaign posters, election hustings and associated paraphernalia will be a familiar sight around campus.

The object of all this activity of course is to persuade students to elect candidates into various roles, with one-year salaried posts to be taken up in the following academic year. Among the range of roles – including Entertainments, Wellbeing and Campaigns – there is a vote for the post of Education Officer.

This year, most of the candidates were offering a manifesto based on improving the facilities, resources and learning opportunities available to students. Enriching the student experience is a core goal for students seeking election to this role. Of course, the student experience is one of the main priorities for the University as a whole, but students are now being far more analytical about what this means to them in practice.

In a record high turnout this year – highlighting the growing engagement of our students in the elections and the issues being debated – the winning candidate for Education Officer actively campaigned on an issue that resonated strongly with us and is one of the key drivers for the Books Right Here Right Now project:

“End additional course costs!”

University libraries are always struggling with the perennial issue of students not being provided with enough copies of their core texts and finding a viable solution to this problem is a real challenge. To some extent, the practice of lecturers advising students to acquire copies of their core texts – and students doing so –  has eased the situation in the past but in the current educational climate, with rising costs for students fuelling their increased expectations, we are seeing this model called into question.

With student dissatisfaction at meeting any additional course costs combining with institutional aspirations to enhance the student experience and ease the burden on students where possible, the outcome of this particular election has only served to increase our motivation to give the voters what they want…

photo credit: Voted yet? #elections 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)

VitalSource event: a student delegate’s report

A university campus can be a strange sight these days – even in a library full of old and new books, there can sometimes seem to be many more laptops and tablets. This is no bad thing: for many students, working digitally can be more convenient or preferable.


The e-textbook platform company VitalSource recently held a convention for publishers and universities to discuss the future of e-books and several student Library Ambassadors were invited to sit on a panel to provide some student perspectives in the discussions.

It was definitely interesting to get a ‘behind-the-scenes’ view about e-books from publishers and university staff. For students it can all seem quite simple, but of course there are many commercial and management issues involved. Companies like VitalSource are trying to streamline the process but it can be far from straightforward.

It was highly encouraging to hear university representatives say that they are trying to take the cost of buying books away from financially-stretched students. At the moment, the University of Manchester Library is introducing e-book pilots for subjects with compulsory set texts such as Medicine, Law and Psychology.

As a lot of this provision is arranged with the schools it partly explains why I haven’t seen many e-books up to this point, studying English. Other students on the panel from Arts and Humanities disciplines had similar experiences and there could be the potential for unequal provision if students in some subjects are getting free access to their core readings while others are missing out.

Students from all disciplines can benefit from e-books for numerous reasons and the university is doing the right thing in prioritising digital reading provision. As more students choose (or need) to live at home, further from the university – or have complex timetables due to commitments in part-time work or work experience – being able to access learning materials away from campus is incredibly helpful.

The VitalSource day also highlighted another advantage of e-books: as each student can possess a digital copy of the text, they can annotate the material as they wish. For an English student tackling the complex language and formal features of verses of poetry, this function would be greatly appreciated!

I think it is fair to conclude from the VitalSource event that universities do want to help students get the resources they need in the way they need them, and are concerned about students fulfilling their potential and having a good university experience. It’s just that – with thousands of students to support – it’s sometimes hard to figure out what will help the most.

This underlines the importance of students being vocal about their needs and preferences and using the materials provided as much as they can. There are people who want to listen as much as we want to read!

Isabelle Bowen, MA Literature and Culture 1200-1700, University of Manchester

photo credit: A Sea of Laptops During a Lecture via photopin (license)