Tag Archives: students

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)

Literature review findings: Predictions and sustainability

In the last of our literature review reports, we’re looking towards the future.

With the increasing popularity of online and distance learning courses, the ubiquity of mobile devices and the adoption of new e-book formats, e-books are expected increasingly to replace print volumes in academic libraries. E-books will continue to meet students’ needs since studies of information-seeking habits conclude that what is most important to them is speed, efficiency and convenience. The growing importance of e-books will have a number of consequences for academic libraries, in areas such as the technologies they make available to users, the use of library space, user education and support, and pricing and licensing models and arrangements.  Development of new e-book features should include, among other things, annotative and sharing capabilities.  Challenges in the context of e-book preservation and sustainability include perpetual access and preservation licensing issues. Problems of long-term digital storage and the devices that display them quickly becoming obsolete were also highlighted as issues.

Their individual copy of an e-textbook – what did our students say? 


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)

Literature review findings: Understanding student preferences and perceptions of e-books

This time, our literature review report explores the theme of ‘reading behaviour’, focussing on student preferences and perceptions of e-books.

The results of this theme suggest that e-books can certainly add value to students in their academic study, and recent increased usage has also led to new forms of reading behaviour taking place with electronic content. New trends in technology are certainly having an influence of student preference for e-books, with personalisation now important to students who want their content to be delivered in a similar way to that of social media feeds. Mobile use is also increasing, as it suits the way students are now studying in shorter and more concentrated bursts. Nevertheless preference for print is still strong amongst supposedly tech-savvy students, many of whom opt for print when engaging in serious academic study or extended reading. The literature also suggests that libraries could provide more effective support and training in e-book use, and this in turn would give libraries a better understanding of the evolving habits of students, like as one study remarks, ‘we continue to experience the revolutionary technological, behavioural, societal and neurological aspects of online reading.

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

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)

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.