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In September 2014 The University of East London launched its free textbook scheme (providing one core e-textbook per module, using the Kortext platform), alongside the provision of free tablets for new undergraduate students. I’m going to give a brief overview of the scheme, and discuss both challenges and opportunities
Extra points for anyone recognising popular cultural reference in title
This ambitious programme was viewed as a catalyst for changing learning and teaching practices across the University, as well as enabling students to build digital literacy skills which would enhance both learning and employability. Some other drivers for this scheme were: As a Response to the logistics of the previous print book scheme – which was not sustainable, flexible or efficient, with high costs of distribution and storage The Portability of e-books – especially for commuting students, and those who have work and family responsibilities, the tablet was regarded as a useful offline reading device Perceived value of a single standard tablet offer – it is easier to support a single device and platform, and students were not necessarily expected to have their own equipment, and there was concern about students buying poorer quality devices Initial feedback was mixed Research undertaken by John Smiths and the Student Union indicated student preference for the previous print book scheme Teaching and was learning was slower to change than hoped Feedback was a challenge to institutional assumptions about students as “digital natives”
Library and Learning Services took an increased role in the scheme for 2016-17 and the current year, managing the free-books scheme and taking responsibility for regular project meetings and communication between stakeholders of both textbook and tablet schemes. We looked firstly to improve communications with academic staff (both in ensuring titles were selected by them and then communicating the outcome of their choices), in the authorisation process, and in setting timeframes for decisions about moving titles to second choice or print where electronic formats were not available.
In the 2016-17 academic year we distributed 49951 books to 9331 students covering 849 modules It’s a big project
And the scheme relies on active collaboration across the university With differing roles in determining eligibility, the selection of titles, the distribution of tablets and e-books, and support
A 2017 survey found 13 percent of our students stated “I usually need someone else to set up or show me how to use a new electronic device”. Those students who need support are potentially most at risk generally regarding retention and success, so both initial setting up and ongoing support are important
Most (though not all) students (94%) have access to broadband/highspeed internet From our 2017 survey 90% of students own a smartphone, nearly 80% a laptop, but less than 50% a non-UEL provided tablet and interestingly just over 35% own a PC or Mac computer
I want to talk about both some of the challenges we have experienced as well as the opportunities provided by the current scheme
We need a lot of different data to make this scheme work – data about courses and module leaders, data about books and data about students. And we need to be able to transfer relevant data between different systems This year we revised processes for marking up eligible modules and transferring data between systems for both selection of titles and distribution of tablets and texts to students. We completely redid the data processes and scripts from our own systems to overcome some of the problems and glitches that had affected previous years
The outstanding data issue is around ensuring that we have up to date and clear information about the availability of texts – this year we were able to let teaching staff know earlier when a book was easily available - but for titles which were not yet on the Kortext platform we’d like to have better and earlier information in formats we can readily understand and communicate to academic staff
Anyone working on for example reading lists will not be surprised at the challenge of communication and academic engagement While most staff readily engage and respond, we are aware that timing (over the immediate pre-exam period and exam period itself) is not ideal – and at the same time to launch the scheme earlier causes issues about staff not yet being allocated to modules, and not having had time to review how texts used, but later causes a shorter period to obtain books as well as hitting the “research” period when staff are difficult to keep in touch with. We want to avoid nagging or chasing staff who are not engaged with the scheme. We’re testing different submission periods and processes and we hope that work promoting some of the features and benefits that the e-book scheme provides will be beneficial and increase engagement.
5.00 While many students are very happy with e-book provision, there remain numbers of students (and staff) who declare a clear preference for print. There are certainly both advantages and disadvantages of both print and e-format, and I think it all too easy for library staff to be absolute advocates for “e” and for change. We need to have ongoing and meaningful conversations with staff and students about their experiences with e-resources, be prepared to listen, (and to work with providers and platforms to address the concerns they voice). I want to avoid talking about e-book resistance (though I can be guilty of this myself), and recognise the improvements still needed in experiences with e-formats as well as the digital skills gap we need to consider, among both students and staff.
There are particular issues with Accessibility – though Kortext have made significant and continue to make improvements in this area. E-books have some accessibility advantages over print but… For some students with disabilities where screen reading is considered an issue we provide print books instead.
It’s not all bad news on the student feedback though
“The investment made into providing free books and digital tablet which contained all the learning materials for the modules was very positive...” Latest NSS
And Our survey in 2017 showed strong overall usage Analytics from Kortext show good registration, download and engagement figures – we are unable of course to benchmark these against the use of print books It would be useful to do some comparison with other universities and this is an area we are considering this year. Our Analytics show large variations between individual users and between modules – reflecting differences in discipline and in teaching, and between different levels of study In 2016-17 89.7% of books accessed were used to support study, students read an average of 418 pages (but large variation), upward trend in engagement since start of the scheme across all schools
Moving forward to consider a few highlighted opportunities
Tablets and ebooks can support Changes in learning and teaching, these don’t however happen straight away – it takes time to change and embed different ways of teaching Ebooks can support flipped classroom and blended learning approaches And the Use of features such as groups and sharing (notes by lecturers) can create more interactive and directed reading
Kortext analytics provide details about registration, downloads, pages read, times and days used, and which parts of books used. (and more) While there are ethical concerns and questions about the use of analytics there are some important opportunities:
We have the potential to link Kortext analytics with the UEL learner analytics platform? Look at impact and Support student engagement measure
Analytics can provide data for Understanding the use of core texts and academic reading more generally (which should be supported by more qualitative enquiry) Analytics reflect that embeddedness in teaching and discipline factors affect use – this is something we will be carrying out some investigation into, talking to areas where there is high use of e-textbooks, and also seeing what strategies impact student reading
We can use analytics to determine which parts of books are most read, which search terms used etc
Currently the scheme allows Custom textbooks to be produced (limited to single publisher) combining content from two or three texts We are Looking at moving from this more limited approach to the use of Open textbooks
We are carrying out some initial work with OpenStax titles this year as additional supplementary texts, using analytics from the Kortext platform as well as lecturer feedback in this project
So that is by design a very brief overview, but do please talk to be today or contact me to discuss in more depth
The Android Invasion is the fourth serial of the thirteenth season of the British science fiction television series Doctor Who, which was first broadcast on BBC1 in 1975. The story sees alien time traveller the Doctor (Tom Baker) and his companion Sarah Jane Smith trying to foil an invasion of Earth by an alien race called the Kraals
The Android Invasion: Challenges and opportunities of a free e-textbooks and tablet scheme
Challenges and Opportunities of a
Free E-Textbooks and Tablet
David Clover – Head of User Engagement
2016-17 Academic Year
49951 books, distributed to
9331 students, covering
Partnerships and collaboration
• Student Recruitment and
• Academic staff
• The Hub (Student Support)
• Centre for Excellence in
Learning and Teaching
• John Smiths
“Books should be available in hard copies rather
“Need to get back to proper textbooks.”
“We used to have the books given to us, now, we
have eBooks. I struggle to read things online. I
need paper, so I have to, out of pocket, buy the
books because I can't do it looking at the screen.”
“The investment made into providing free
books and digital tablet which contained
all the learning materials for the modules
was very positive...”
On average how many hours do you spend using
UEL Samsung tablet for reading e-books?