FoTT Conf 2009: Effective and Practical Use of eTextbooks

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On October 16, 2009

I will be starting today’s events with “Effective and Practical Uses of eTextbooks“, presented by Roger Von Holzen from Northwest Missouri State University.

Roger is the director of the educational technology office for Northwest Missouri State University.

Northwest has a very strong technology presence on campus and in the textbook rental arena.

Students are charged $360 per year for a wireless notebook computer rental. The cost/read is the most important aspect. Rentals can get up to 15+ reads per textbook. Reselling textbooks only get up to 5 reads per book.

NW charges $180 per year for students to rent their textbooks (total cost: $540/year). Textbooks can be purchased for long-term usage (e.g. calculus, chemistry and other general and discipline-specific reference textbooks).

eReaders include Sony’s eReader, Amazon’s Kindle, and a version called Plastic Logic. Apple also has an electronic book reader application for iPhone (CourseSmart that draws on 7,000 textbooks and AlgebraPrep from Pearson Higher Education).

Sony Reader — Has a 6-inch display, E ink technology (appears similar to paper, also used by Kindle). High contrast and high-resolution display. Easy to read even in bright sunshine.These features are also found in Amazon’s Kindle.

Phase I — NW implement eReaders on campus for all students

How it works — eTextbooks downloaded from publisher’s web site. USB
transfers to Sony Reader. USB also charges up the Reader, so it can
easily be charged through a computer connection (although I suspect a
standard plug-in adapter is also available).

Issues — eTextbooks have a number of copyright issues to deal with,
which means it may take awhile to convert a book into an ebook. Also,
for campus-wide deployment, there may not be enough eReader compatible
textbooks. Standardization of etextbook formats may take several years
to resolve.

PDF formatted textbooks have restrictive and slow navigation options, but are also the most portable formats.

Students seem to like the handheld devices. They also like the fact
they can carry multiple textbooks at once without bending over from the

eReaders without search and annotation options were not well-received
by students. They need the ability to make notations in the text and
quickly find important information.

eReaders work great for pleasure reading when traveling. E ink technology is also very user friendly.

A single charge can last 2-3 weeks. Devices use the most power when
flipping through pages. Pages are black and white only. No flash
animation or interactivity, though the Kindle does allow some limited
access to the internet (you can read blogs and news sites without much

Phase II — NW switched to Notebook Computers

Students pick up notebook computers before classes start. Students are
given access codes to download the textbooks (VitalSource Bookshelf).
Need to have a common interface available to the students–single
source access to all eTextbooks. Promotes one standard format on campus.

Bookshelf files downloaded to student’s computer and can be integrated
with SSO and course management system (add complexity to the process,
but doable).

Students can customize page views, take notes, share notes, search books, and print/copy with bibliographic support.

Notebook computer have most of the functionality of laptop/desktop
machines, including color pages and full web-based interactivity.

Notebooks are bulkier than eReaders and also require more power to use (a single charge lasts hours instead of days or weeks).

Bookshelf allows for a summary page of notes and highlights to help students study for exams.

eTextbooks do go away at the end of the semester (built-in
self-destruct), so long-term use of the textbooks (e.g. a reference for
later courses) is definitely an issue.

Delivery of eTextbooks was simple and efficient–little technical
support required from bookstore or IT. Students who had problems
generally didn’t read the instructions on how to obtain the textbooks.

Some eTextbook features, if used in the classroom, need additional WiFi capability (wireless network access in every classroom).

eTextbooks facilitate integrated learning resources for the student.
There is also a potential saving for students, though the cost to the
campus may be the same. Several publishers have shown a commitment to
research in the eTextbook arena.

Phase III — Integration of eTextbooks and electronic resources

Provide faculty with guidelines to manage expectations for use of
eTextbooks and related supplemental electronic materials. PDF textbooks
are no longer accepted due to limitations of PDF. NW is also trying to
integrate all eTextbooks into their course management system (not
Blackboard in their case).

eTextbooks will start to replace more and more standard textbooks as
they become available (no reason not to). Faculty will continue to
select the textbooks (electronic or paper) based on content.

Interactive online content will be required at NW within the eTextbook environment (no PDF!).

eTextbooks should also be standardized within a single system (e.g. VitalSource Bookshelf).

NW is a textbook rental campus, so they are continuing to negotiate a
sensible price structure with the publishers that makes the most sense
for their campus. Missouri S&T (or UM-System) would have to
negotiate their own deal with the publishers.

NW continuing to search for a new delivery platform, such as a Tablet PC with an eReader option.

Important Points:

  • eReaders don’t have the functionality to support eTextbooks.
  • eBooks are not the same as eTextbooks.
  • Reads per purchase can be controlled in the eTextbook / eBook environment.
    • Cost per read is currently higher with eTextbooks v. paper textbooks.
  • Rental of textbooks and eTextbooks is gaining momentum
  • Penetration of eTextbooks will be throttled by lack of innovation.
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On October 16, 2009. Posted in Teaching Strategies