We opened up a “can of discussion” in our last ATAG meeting about etextbooks. Here is my Prezi presentation again for viewing if you want to refresh your thoughts.
As I write in the title of this post, these are very preliminary considerations based upon a little research and upon my limited scope as a gen ed instructor who uses technology in the classroom. I think of this post as a crack in the door to look through and I have borrowed heavily from the suggestions made here. (Many thanks to Doug Smith for pointing me to this early study of etextbook adoption.)
First, we need to do a review of those who are adopting etextbooks, of those who are considering moving to etextbooks, of those who have done it and are evaluating how it went. We even need to look in particular at those who have decided not to adopt them or who are putting off the decision.
Second, I think we need to avoid top-down mandates on etextbook adoption. Institutions that go ‘all out’ and ‘top down’ might be flirting with disaster. Instead, let us encourage pilot adoption of etexts. Let’s provide monetary/hardware incentives and make folks sing for their supper with TSOnline/FACET/campus wide presentations. Or maybe we can create a small cadre of early adopters and let them figure out how to model etextbook adoption to the larger community. We might want to have this group be cross-departmental or from several colleges to get the broadest POV on adoption.
I keep forgetting students in this mix. Bad, bad problem that. Students must be involved at every level of the study process. And I also forget that we could involve discrete organizations like the Honors College or Gatton Academy as pilot groups of users.
Perhaps I am stating the obvious here but someone should. If we decide to adopt, we need to plan well ahead for any campus-wide rollout by making sure our physical and employee infrastructure can handle the particular needs of faculty, students, and staff. For example, we need to know how a large scale adoption of etexts might pressure our network at its weakest links. We need to think about how we would support even a small rollout of both IOS and Android and other devices. A larger group can flesh these questions out or we can borrow from the experience of others who have so kindly been the earliest adopters.
Perhaps we could do as we have with Adobe Connect–limited licenses (or in this case limited hardware and training for first users). It is a classic sales technique–the takeaway, limited time offer. We might combine this “sing for your supper” opportunity with a second tier of opportunities as an inducement to longer term use of etextbooks, devices, and training.
If our piloted efforts show fruit, then we market the fire out of them to all affected folk–teachers, students, and staff. It seems paradoxical, but my experience has been that students are ‘way conservative’ about adoption of tech so I think they need convincing. Perhaps there could be subsidization for selected gen ed courses. Free pizza?
I think the sales effort only comes after we have proven that it makes economic and pedagogic sense to move to etextbooks. I don’t think our students are a monolithic bloc of early adopters. Perhaps etextbooks have greater advantages with our science students. If so, our focus might want to be on getting them to adopt. Whatever we choose to do, we have to establish clearly that what we propose is a game that is worth the candle for students as well as teachers and support staff.
Whether this project is in the exploration stages, the piloting stages, or the partial or complete rollout stage we must provide support that include research justifications, actual training, financial and ‘psychic’ support, economic rationales as well as follow up support.
I don’t mean to give the impression that etextbook adoption at WKU is a done deal. In fact if our initial evaluation of existing programs and literature shows we should take a laissez faire approach, I am fine with that. But we need to make sure that we also justify why we have not moved toward a tool and idea that is beginning to percolate throughout both the K-12 and higher ed zeitgeist. Consider our local schools with one-to-one laptop initiatives sending us students who expect to read their textbooks on a screen. Part of what the federal Department of Education is pushing is college readiness. Is etextbook literacy a part of such readiness? I don’t know, but I do know of at least four schools in the Green River Area Ed District that are now 1-to-1 schools. Will we be ready for them?
I think that ATAG needs a few more resources to make a proper stab at answering this very important question. I am an early adopter looking for ways to self-publish etexts, to create mini-etextbooks that are reuseable, and to use blog plugins as potential etextbook tools. I have cobbled together a set of links here and here if you want to gather some of my ‘breadcrumbs’ on etextbooks. I look forward to our conversation.