UO’s e-textbook pilot program wrapping up

The University of Oregon Libraries, Information Services and Academic Affairs joined forces to launch a pilot program fall term to evaluate the use of electronic textbooks, or e-texts, instead of traditional printed texts in university courses.

The Duck Store assisted by identifying publishers that offer electronic content for instruction in classes taught at the UO and donated gift certificates for students willing to complete an assessment survey.

According to the program’s national sponsors, EDUCAUSE and Internet2, the e-text pilot is intended to help universities “evaluate technologies and business models in the fast-evolving migration from traditional textbooks to electronic content.”

E-texts at the UO

The first phase of the pilot program got underway at the UO in September 2013, when faculty and students in two courses – one in business and another in history – began using Blackboard and a content aggregator called Courseload to access e-textbooks for the courses. E-textbook access was completely subsidized for students in pilot program courses.

“Many people think that e-texts are simply a means of delivering paper textbook content electronically,” said Melissa Woo, Vice Provost and Chief Information Officer for Information Services at the UO. “However, e-text platforms can now provide a means to increase interaction between students and their instructors or with other students in the course. The pilot will help campus evaluate whether e-texts enhance the learning experience, as well as lower costs for students.”

Mark Watson, associate university librarian for research services, believes the timing for the pilot program was good, given the changes in the way university courses are being taught.

“E-texts and other e-content are now available from publishers for some of our courses, and this is an excellent opportunity for the UO to prepare for the future as more and more instruction goes digital,” Watson said. “We want to use the e-text pilot program to evaluate the cost, value and effectiveness of delivering course content this way.”

Instructor experiences

Ron Bramhall, senior instructor of business, is one of two instructors using Courseload as part of the fall term pilot project.

“I like the ability to just write what I am thinking as I read the text and know that my students could have instant access to that," Bramhall said. "It was fairly easy to use, though some of the highlighting features didn’t work the way I wanted.

"I also like that I can link out from the text to additional material,” he said. “Having gone through this one pilot has given me some ideas about how to better engage students in my notes and perhaps give them some tips about how to use the text more productively.”

So far, Bramhall’s response remains measured.

“I don’t think this e-text pilot experience has been necessarily positive or negative," he said. "I think we are on the early learning curve for this technology, both in terms of how instructors use it and how the technology itself works. This pilot has not made me think we are on the brink of some transformational use of technology. It also hasn’t made me a Luddite.”

Alex Dracobly, a senior instructor in history, reported that based on his brief experience with the e-text platform, e-texts and textbooks suffer from the same problem: lack of use.

“I know perfectly well that students often ignore the reading assignments or ignore them until they are forced to crack the book open," Dracobly said. "This is certainly the case with e-texts, too: I currently have two students out of 216 that have read through the assigned material. A large majority haven’t used it at all, and of those who have used it, most have read fewer than 30 pages."

Measuring student use of e-texts in an instructional environment is one of the goals of the pilot program.

The future of e-texts

The pilot project will be assessed during winter term in order to determine next steps.

A group of university stakeholders facilitated the pilot program, including James Bailey, adaptive technology access adviser; Helen Chu, director of academic technologies at the UO Libraries; David Ketchum, resource sharing librarian; Bruce Lundy, book division team leader at the UO Duck Store; Arlyn Schaufler, general manager of the Duck Store; Robert Voelker-Morris, IT faculty consultant for the Teaching and Learning Center; Mark Watson; and Melissa Woo.

For more information on the program, contact Mark Watson, mrwatson@uoregon.edu.

- from UO Libraries and Information Services