UI participates in e-text pilots

UI participates in e-text pilots

Digital technology is driving a period of rapid change in higher education, and nowhere does that change seem more apparent than with e-textbooks and digital course materials.

In fall of 2012, the UI joined an e-text pilot to evaluate technologies and business models in the transition from traditional textbooks to electronic content. Co-sponsored by EDUCAUSE and Internet2, the pilot was conducted in partnership with McGraw-Hill Education and Courseload. In collaboration with the College of Education, ITS received a $20,000 grant in support of the study.

E-text piloting ramped up the following year as the UI explored products from four distinct vendors with nearly 1,800 students enrolled in 25 different courses. There was another pilot with Courseload, and there were also pilots with Bioportal, Mindtap, and CourseSmart. Each system included different features, such as note-taking and sharing functions, and embedded quizzes, videos, and activities.

Assessing learning outcomes

In fall 2012, ITS and the College of Education evaluated how students’ experiences with e-texts compared to traditional textbooks. The goal was to see whether the interactive e-textbook platform was associated with learning outcomes.

The study involved nearly 600 students in 17 courses. For comparison, researchers matched up the courses so one class used e-texts, while the other class enrolled in that same course used books.

The key findings were:

  • Students generally preferred books over e-texts, reporting that they were easier to access and more useful for learning. Some students used the interactive tools, but most did not engage in bookmarking, annotating, or taking notes. Overall, e-text users were less satisfied.
  • There was no significant difference in the final grades of students who used e-texts and those who used textbooks in a matched course.
  • Students who were required to use the interactive tools were more likely to believe that the e-text had a positive effect on their grades. This suggests that the instructor’s role in promoting tool usage is critical for students’ adoption and successful usage of e-texts.
  • A strategy of using bookmarks along with frequent reading was associated with student learning outcomes in the form of final grade. (Not many students used bookmarks extensively, though, so this is a topic the researchers want to revisit in future studies.)
  • Early attitudes are a factor in students’ inclination toward using e-texts throughout the semester. Instructors can assess these attitudes at the start of the semester and use that information to help students who may otherwise shy away from e-texts. Structured activities on how to use the mark-up tools could benefit both students and instructors.

A spring 2013 follow-up study examined how students used e-texts to achieve course benchmarks. It focused on a course that was part of the Internet2/EDUCAUSE pilot, involving 87 students who used a Courseload e-text and 25 students who used a CourseSmart e-text. Preliminary findings indicate that students believed e-texts were useful when they thought e-text activities aligned closely with the goals of their assignments. CourseSmart received higher marks overall; this could be related to a variety of factors, including the ability to access the system through mobile devices and online.