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Arizona State and U Michigan Try Digital Texts

Two major institutions--Arizona State University and the University of Michigan--are giving faculty a chance to try out digital versions of textbooks; one has adopted the program, and the other is running a pilot.

Tempe-based Arizona State has adopted CourseSmart's Faculty Instant Access program to streamline the faculty materials review process and to comply with the federal Higher Education Opportunity Act. One of the newer stipulations of the federal act, which was renewed in 2008, mandates that post-secondary institutions become more forthcoming about the actual costs of attending a school, including expected outlay for textbooks.

The CourseSmart program gives faculty access to the company's catalog of e-textbooks and other digital resources such as study guides. That collection encompasses more than "90 percent of core higher education textbooks in use today," the company said in a statement.

Using the Instant Access feature, instructors will be able to review course materials on demand to determine their appropriateness for course use without waiting for print copy delivery. The Web-based system allows teachers to compare multiple versions of textbooks online using a cross-book searching capability. Features also include note taking and highlighting.

The university is making e-textbook ordering available through My ASU, its information portal. Once a faculty member has chosen materials for use in a course, students can purchase the ebook or other digital matter through CourseSmart's Web site. The company said its e-books are priced at up to 60 percent less than traditional print texts.

"The instant access program provides our faculty with versatile options to review course materials," said Leah Lommel, senior director of development. "Moving to more electronic materials is a more sustainable option versus receiving hard copy materials for selection."

At U Michigan, a working group involving the Library, Office of the Registrar, Information and Technology Services, and Instructional Support Services is piloting the integration of CourseSmart digital offerings directly into CTools, the university's learning management system. The test involves five courses of different levels and disciplines and 172 students. Students and instructors in these courses are receiving free electronic access to textbooks via CTools, using the CourseSmart platform.

Throughout the semester, the working group will conduct surveys and focus groups to learn more about student and instructor expectations and actual experiences with e-books. The data collected will be added to a report with recommendations to campus leadership about e-book implementation.

"As a large, forward-thinking public university, we continue to look for new ways to improve the learning environment for our faculty and students," said working group head Susan Hollar, who also serves as a curriculum integration coordinator for the U Michigan Library. "We are evaluating the pilot program and will make recommendations regarding campus directions for e-textbooks. We want to help our campus make informed decisions about new technology tools."

In addition to providing the university with e-books, CourseSmart handled the technical integration and distribution of the program. That process was helped along by the application's compliance with the open standard called Basic Learning Tools Interoperability, developed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium. A practical outcome of the integration of Basic LTI is single-sign-on for users getting into the LMS and accessing CourseSmart.

"We value partners who are able to take a standards-based approach which enables us to produce desired results with minimal investments," said Chuck Severance a clinical associate professor in the School of Information at U Michigan.

Users can access CourseSmart's books from any computer, laptop, and browser-based mobile device. The company also offers free iPhone and iPad apps. Users with vision-related disabilities can download customized versions of ebooks optimized for accessibility.

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