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Virginia H. Evans

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Arlene Buynak

eTextbook Pilot at UVa

Spring/Fall 2012


What is an eTextbook?

An electronic book (variously, e-book, ebook, digital book, or even e-edition) is a book-length publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, and produced on, published through, and readable on computers or other electronic devices. Sometimes the equivalent of a conventional printed book, e-books can also be born digital. E-books are usually read on dedicated e-book readers or general purpose computer tablets. Personal computers and many mobile phones (most smart phones) can also be used to read e-books. Wikipedia

How did this pilot project get started?

In October 2011, university provosts attending the Committee on Institutional Cooperation (CIC) expressed interest in initiating a quick-turn-around, multi-institutional eTextbook pilot. The increasing cost of textbooks and the greater availability of laptop computers, eReaders, and tablets created a unique opportunity through a coordinated pilot project to evaluate the costs and benefits of providing electronic textbooks to students.

In November of 2011, Indiana University approached the Internet2 organization to put together an eText pilot for the spring 2012 semester based on IU's eTexts Initiative. In January 2012, IU, along with Internet 2, McGraw-Hill, and Courseload, launched the Spring 2012 eTexts Pilot. The University of Wisconsin, University of Minnesota, Cornell University, and the University of Virginia joined the pilot and evaluation.

Spring 2012 Pilot at UVa

A Variety of Departments Participated

Slightly less than 300 students and 7 faculty opted into the eTextbook pilot at the University in spring 2012. Participating departments were varied and included Engineering, Computer Science, Chemistry, and the School of Continuing and Professional Studies. eTextbooks (published through McGraw-Hill) and an e-reader (Courseload) were made available via UVaCollab (UVa's Course Management System). At the end of the pilot, the students were surveyed about their experience.

Report on Initial Pilot Compiled from All Participating Universities

A compilation of evaluations from all the participating universities was published in a full report on August 1, 2012.

Major findings from the research include:

  • Only a minority of users elected to purchase a paper/printed copy (12%).
  • The lower cost of an eTextbook was considered the most important factor for students considering future purchase of an eText.
  • The portability of eTexts also ranked very high as a factor leading to future purchase.
  • Other important factors in future eText purchases included that it should be accessible without an Internet connection and available throughout a student’s academic career, not just for a semester.
  • Difficult readability of the text (e.g., difficult zoom feature) was mentioned numerous times by students as well as lack of native functionality on tablets such as the iPad.
  • Faculty, for the most part, did not report using the enhanced eText features (sharing notes, tracking students, question/answer, additional links, etc.) and indicated the need for additional training.
  • Because faculty did not use the enhanced features students saw little benefit from the eText platform’s capability of promoting collaboration with other students or with the professor.

Fall 2012 Pilot Now Underway at UVa & Nationwide

More UVa Departments & Students Participate

EDUCAUSE and Internet2 have partnered with McGraw-Hill and Courseload for another eTextbook pilot taking place during the fall of 2012. More than 25 colleges and universities, including the University of Virginia, are providing eTexts to their students in an effort to advance a new model for the purchase, distribution, and use of electronic textbooks and digital course materials.

This pilot departs from current eText practices in 3 key ways:

  • replaces individual purchases by students with site licenses negotiated and funded by the campuses;
  • substitutes paper textbooks owned by students with electronic materials licensed for use in specific classes; and
  • uses an e-reader not associated with a specific publisher.

The participating institutions will assess the new model for appeal and pedagogical benefit to faculty and students, scalability of the approach, ease of integration with the campus learning management environment, and especially how the model supports increased value and lower costs of educational materials.