Thursday, August 30, 2012

Survey Gives E-Text Pilots Mixed Grades

As 27 colleges and universities get set to launch a second round of e-textbook pilot programs, Internet2, the high-speed networking group partnering with Educause on its program, has released a study of five universities that conducted similar e-text pilots last spring.

Students liked saving money with the e-text alternatives, but were not as impressed by reading on electronic devices, found the e-book platforms hard to navigate, and on a whole, preferred to stay with print books. In addition, professors in the survey did not use the collaborative features built into the platforms, such as the ability to share notes or create links, according to a report in the Chronicle for Higher Education.

That report found that cost and portability were deciding factors for students to buy an e-text. However, they proved to be difficult to read and, because faculty didn’t use the enhanced features available with the platform, the e-books failed to help students interact with classmates or the instructor.

“With technology, many things change with repeated use,” said Bradley Wheeler, vice president for information technology, University of Indiana, Bloomington. “People have lots of early first impressions as they experience new things, and then over time you start to see things become more mainstream as technology improves and skills and even attitudes toward use improve.”

Wheeler developed the program at Indiana, in which the university negotiated with publishers to buy e-textbooks in bulk to get a better per-book price and then charged students a mandatory fee to cover the cost. Cornell and the Universities of Minnesota, Virginia, and Wisconsin at Madison participated with Indiana in the pilot program and survey.

The research also had recommendations for schools considering this e-text approach, including making sure e-texts are available in a variety of formats and training instructors to use the features built into digital course materials.

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