Sunday, June 10, 2012

Making the Move to Digital Textbooks

Digital textbooks are not new. Academic publishers began offering digital versions of their textbooks a decade ago, but only for a limited number of subjects and courses. Now, however, with the rapid growth in tablets and e-reader use, publishers are releasing nearly all their textbooks in digital format.

And campuses are jumping on board. Price tends to be the biggest driver for most institutions, as they look for ways to cut costs for their students. Other benefits follow, including integration of e-texts with other course material and with software such as the learning management system, as well as ease of access to new textbooks for faculty consideration.

Not surprisingly, students welcome the adoption of e-textbooks. In a 2011 ECAR student technology study, 57 percent of respondents indicated that they use e-books or e-textbooks to some extent. Roughly one-third (31 percent) wish more of their instructors would use e-textbooks. These students report that “e-books are cheaper than regular hardbound textbooks, easier to carry around, and more accessible all the time,” according to the study.

Despite these benefits, challenges remain with introducing electronic coursework programs. These include student access to a wider range of e-textbooks, integration of more supplemental materials into those e-books, and better use of the electronic medium to offer capabilities paper textbooks can’t. In addition, faculty and students both must see e-textbooks as workable, useful tools for teaching, learning, and studying. In fact, that is something that frequently happens after adoption rather than before.

In this paper, we look at three institutions that are piloting electronic textbook programs from CourseSmart®, a San Mateo, CA-based provider of digital course materials. The focus of the pilots range from online courses, to traditional classrooms, to a hybrid approach. The extent of each pilot also varies -- from a single section, to faculty only, to the entire school.

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