TOC – Digital Textbooks Panel Summary

Panel discussion on eTextbooks in Higher Education:  Practical Findings to Guide the Industry.   Panelists included Jade Roth, Curtiss Barnes, Nick Francesco, David McCarthy, Jacob Robinson, and Susan Stites-Doe.  Panelist names/titles are available on the conference website.

Notes are my own interpretation and my best attempts were made to ensure accuracy.

Some overview data:  15% of textbook content is avaiable in digital format, yet only 1 – 3% of higher education sales are digital, sales are across all disciplines, there is no clear winner in the format.

14% of students have purchased digital materials, primarily for cost savings, 18% purchase for features, and 10% for curiosity.

Features most important to students in digital textbooks:

  • search within and across content
  • annotation/notes
  • dowwnloaded texts over online acess, flexibility where/when they can access
  • integration with other course content including lecture notes, etc.

Most challenging feature for students is DRM.

How do DRM and piracy impact digital textbooks?

  • More DRM on digital textbooks because of higher price points.
  • There are a lot of restraints on use/printing/downloading. Easy access is the key for current students. A lot of students don’t understand the restrictions, this will be a struggle to educate folks.
  • Piracy is a huge problem, Cengage had 10K takedown notices in 2010.
  • Faculty and students are finding it very difficult to download them and use reliably.  It puts a burden on the IT folks, as they grow, even bigger support issue for campuses.  Students have a very short-term focus, what do I need to do for this class right now.  They don’t seem to value the textbook as much.
  • Students see DRM as a barrier and get angry.  They will work harder to break DRM than they will to study.
  • We need to work within the DRM constructs and figure out how to allow students the most freedom within these constructs.  The message about DRM/piracy needs to get to students very clearly, and quickly.  Find that most students just don’t understand DRM.
  • Over time we will find solutions to some of these barriers, but this will be directly related to business models.
  • Wireless is a barrier on campuses as well – we saturate the wireless points just to get students online for classes.  Universities have to keep upgrading the wireless to keep pace with the traffic.  This relates to huge budgetary issues to support the growing needs of students and the network.

Do digital textbooks change the way people learn?  Is this more effective?

  • A student on the panel said he had a greater understanding the material because he could access the textbook in more places.  But, you grow up learning from a textbook and there is this myth that students want to just click over to an eBook and are able use it effectively off the bat.  It will take time for students to adapt and if they have trouble with it on this technology, will just go buy the book because they know how to use the printed book.  He finds some of the bells/whistles of the interactivity of new ebooks can be distracting.
  • Faculty member on the panel said the jury still out on it, she hasn’t seen any difference in her own students. But her students are finding distractions with the digital books.  Focus groups with her students are showing that students want to acquire handheld devices to house their textbooks to  limit distractions.
  • Some publishers have done research on this and found the engagement factor is the critical part.  It is still very early and the technology will evolve.  Publishers seem to be ahead of the curve on what professors are willing to adopt.

What changes will we see in the next 1 – 3 years in digital textbooks?

  • Where we are right now is where music ends, we are at the digitization level, getting content digital. We need to figure out how to get the technology/tools sets built into the content itself.  One book that bleeds into another book – one book, many topics. (i.e.  a “book” with economics, accounting, and finance information in one shell that can be used by multiple classes/professors)
  • We will still have both formats for a while to come.  Students will want to revert back to the print because of certain things you can do very easily with print (like highlight/take notes)
  • Industry still today is a cottage industry.  We need to support academic freedom and tools are just part of delivery. Think of this as a giant mashup.  If we do it right it will be accessible, affordable, will support the learner, and take advantage of the cloud.
  • Shared format, ease of use/download is a primary concern for students, open-source textbooks being used more frequently, opportunity for framing more social networking with the use of textbooks.
  • You win when you make the ecosystem as easy to use as FourSquare.  Ease of use is critical.