Started at the Indiana University and now growing to twenty-five higher ed institutions, a trial run program on the implementation of digital textbooks at the college level is designed to show universities basically how digital can be implemented. This test is being conducted by Internet2 and Educause.
It wouldn’t seem like rocket science. An ever-growing number of publishers and digital textbooks designers is producing content at a high speed rate. Adults are adopted e-reading across multiple devices and platforms at an equally staggering rate. So what is there to be concerned with, and why do schools seem to need a hand-holding lesson in how digital textbooks can work for them?
Because when it comes to textbooks, especially those at the college level, it’s not just as simple as distributing one math book. University faculty often develop their own materials suited for their courses. That’s the content that is in addition to the content created by the major educational publishers. Before anyone can simply throw away the old print textbooks and adopt digital across the board, there are questions that have to be answered and scenarios that have to be envisioned.
For example, one of the universities involved in the 25-school pilot program has already pulled out over concerns regarding accessibility. This very real concern over making sure the digital text is appropriate for every student, regardless of impediment or disability, led to a two-year study involving CourseSmart.
One of the features that is different about this pilot program is that the students are not required to purchase the digital content, which is good news considering digital textbooks can often cost as much as their print counterparts due to the high cost of research and creation of the book. Instead of individual student purchases, the universities will maintain a site license, much like schools already do for software. Students who opt for a print edition can choose to print out the portions they need or purchase a print-on-demand edition, which tends to be more cost effective for both the consumer and the publisher.
While the pilot is not only to have students evaluate the digital materials themselves, it is also meant to gain feedback on the process of actually implementing e-textbooks on a broad scale. The results of the program will be shared at two conferences later this year.