Tag Archives: research

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

E-books: a perspective from a PhD student

I have been a student for the last 15 years (gasp!) and I have also had to work and study at the same time to make ends meet financially. I can appreciate how frustrating and socially exclusive it can be when there are books that you really need but you just can’t afford to buy them. Although the books I needed for my PhD were not part of any core reading lists, when I heard about the Books Right Here Right Now project it made me think about how much easier the research process might have been if I had been able to access the texts I needed electronically.

During my studies I submitted a paper to the UK Kant Society conference, based around a chapter of my thesis. Submitting the paper required me to read a new book that cost £65 to buy. This is a fairly standard price for philosophy texts (though during the course of my thesis I referred to over 200 titles, many of which cost a lot more!). As this book was new and focused on a niche area, the Library did not have a copy and it was not available as an e-book at the time. I did manage to order it as an interlibrary loan, making notes and photocopying relevant pages, but this was a slow and time-consuming process and the book had to be returned within a few weeks.


My conference paper and thesis included some criticisms of the book’s findings but it was while preparing my conference paper that I realised that the author of the text was going to be attending. Due to the limited access I’d had to the full book, I suddenly felt very nervous about the content of my paper. Although the paper was well received – and I spoke to the author and we had an interesting discussion about our differing interpretations – the whole experience would have been much less stressful if I’d been able to refer back to the original text in full as and when I needed it.  

The Library offers a ‘Books on Demand’ service to postgraduates, enabling them to order books that are essential for their research either in print or online. The availability of e-books to all members of the academic community, through this and the work of Books Right Here Right Now, will make a real difference to the quality of academic study and research.

Dr Nicola Grayson, University of Manchester Library

Experts and experiments: focusing on the future

Guinea reading

Exploring new purchasing models and methods of book provision inevitably involves experimentation and the unknown. To some extent students become ‘guinea pigs’, though this isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Potential difficulties—for instance, installing new software, using unfamiliar formats and figuring out the best workflows—are balanced by the user-centric and thought-provoking nature of our experiments.

Our hypothesis is that the models we are exploring will benefit undergraduates and the University in both the short and long term. No instrument, and no piece of research, is ever value-neutral. Built into our project is an unavoidable, subtly political fact: students want to keep their costs down, and so does the University (including the Library). Both parties want to be smart about budgets while keeping up-to-date with useful technologies.

The assumptions made by Books Right Here Right Now are justifiable ones; local expertise is cross-referenced with a range of primary and secondary sources. However, the project must continue to question, reflect, and add to its knowledge store while recognising that even the most tightly controlled experiments leave room for the unexpected.

Exploring students’ reactions and attitudes is essential to evaluating the project’s success. Are their perceptions in harmony with our own? How do they rate our e-books in relation to others? What (if anything) do they believe are the benefits of e-books? Do e-books occupy a ‘comfortable’ space in academic reading routines? What might they tell us that’s surprising, or even counter-intuitive?

Seeking answers to these and other questions, we triangulated data gathered via two generally efficient and well-understood instruments: the (online) questionnaire and the focus group. Links to the questionnaire were distributed to 4480 students across 23 modules; three focus groups separated by Faculty were delivered in a semi-structured format, with time allocated to a demonstration and discussion of the e-books, something executed in collaboration with the Library’s Digital Systems and eLearning teams.

Challenges included gaining a sufficient response to the questionnaire in order to produce valid statistics, finding enough participants for the focus groups at a busy time of year, and putting aside our ‘belief’ in the project to avoid asking ‘leading’ questions. Happily, all difficulties were overcome and much of what the students told us confirmed that we are offering something valuable, relevant and defensible.

Likewise, in terms of research methods, findings from the questionnaire and the focus groups complemented one another. There were a few surprises along the way – for instance, there is a distinct lack of interest in accessing illegal copies of e-books and a general lack of experience using e-book readers for either recreational or scholarly reading. There is also a huge amount of pragmatism and an appreciation by students that what you choose isn’t always dictated by what you prefer but by what is available.

In the near future, we will be sharing and discussing some of our findings while using them to inform future project activities. Watch this space!

Kathleen Menzies, Data and Research Assistant, University of Manchester Library

Literature review findings: Online versus print

As mentioned in the introductory post about our literature reviews, the Books Right Here Right Now project has been looking at various key themes to inform our work. One of the themes explored readers’ preferences for online and printed texts.

The results of this research were mixed with some students preferring print for its ease of use – or their fondness for the physical feel of a book – while others preferred electronic access for the convenience and search functionality that it offers. Studies recognise that new forms of reading behaviour are occurring with electronic content, with the process of reading on screen being cognitively different to the process of reading on paper. Further research on the technological, behavioural, societal and neurological aspects of online reading is required but new forms of non-traditional reading behaviour include concepts such as ‘power-browsing’ through titles and readers following the ‘path-of-least-resistance’ to find the information they are looking for as quickly as possible. It is also acknowledged that the technological infrastructure for online reading is a work in progress. Problems such as eye fatigue from reading on screen are common, possibly putting major academic publishers off investing in e-readers for the time being.

Literature review findings: Discovery

This blog entry focuses on the findings of our literature review research, as discussed in an earlier post. The results of this research theme revealed some major benefits to students and academics at institutions using reading list systems, not least that the core principles of information literacy (to scope, gather, present and evaluate information) can all be demonstrated within a reading list. At some institutions reading list systems have been connected to a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) and the VLE has become be the place where students go to get everything they need for their academic study.

This has been well-received by academics who state that such integration increases students’ engagement with their course reading. At the same time, it is also apparent that some reading lists are not realising their full potential, often because they are not being kept up to date by academics who believe the effort involved in maintaining reading lists is disproportionate to the benefits they bring to students.

Our literature reviews for Books Right Here Right Now

As a major part of the Books Right Here Right Now project we have been carrying out a literature review to understand all the issues and inform the primary research we are undertaking with our students and academic colleagues.

3011441301_14e0fbcbf7_bSix main themes were investigated in this literature review:

  • Identification of core texts
  • E-book pilots
  • Reading behaviour
  • Purchasing procedures
  • Reading strategy
  • Technology and facilitation of access

In the first instance keywords to be used for searching were identified for each of these themes, with input from relevant staff on the project group. The agreed keywords were then used to search on a number of pre-determined sources, including databases such as Library and Information Science Abstracts (LISA), ERIC, Emerald and Factiva as well as mailing lists such as LIS-E-BOOKS and LIS-ERESOURCES.

As many of the themes related to current developments in academic libraries, publishing or technology, and the project is focused on the future, the literature review was limited to the retrieval of content from 2009 to the present day.

In total just over 50 items of literature were identified using the methodology outlined above. To present the results of the literature review, findings were grouped into the following themes:

  • Reading behaviour (understanding student preferences for and perceptions of e-books)
  • Reading behaviour (online reading versus print; device choice)
  • Discovery (reading lists; information seeking behaviour)
  • Innovation (new ways of purchasing e-book pilots; new ways of content delivery)
  • The future (predictions; sustainability)

Each of these themes was taken in turn and any items from the literature search that fitted under these themes were identified by reading the title and abstract. For each piece of literature the aim was to extract key findings, key statistics, leading exponents and any implications or recommendations for The University of Manchester Library. Sometimes items of literature made reference to other studies that had taken place. When it was clear that these references fitted well into the themes of the literature review, they were consulted, analysed and also included in findings alongside the other articles.

To finish off, once the key information had been extracted from the literature and matched to an appropriate theme, it was then incorporated into a series of slides on Slideshare to give a visual representation of the findings.

We will share these findings via this blog over the coming months.

photo credit: stats via photopin (license)