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The Rise of eText

A Q&A with Rand Spiwak

eText consultant Rand Spiwak engages in an informative discussion of electronic texts and considers how higher education institutions can prepare for a shift from print to digital course materials and textbooks.

Mary Grush: Electronic textbooks and course materials have been around for a long time, but I think we are seeing increasing interest at colleges and universities in adoption. What have you observed?

Rand Spiwak: Having spoken with more than 290 colleges and universities about eText, I have not found one yet that doesn't have some degree of interest, whether it's being pursued by individual faculty members or departments, or by one of the schools or colleges of a university, or through a systematic inquiry by a formal electronic media or eText committee. All institutions see it coming. It's a matter of when, not if.

Even schools that are heavily invested in hardbound textbooks and buy-back programs are aware that the life of the traditional, hardcover textbook is limited. Someday in the not-too-distant future, there will not be a source of hardcover textbooks, new or used.

If a school wants to control its own destiny, the institution should get involved now.

Grush: What are the drivers behind all this interest now, in moving to electronic texts? Are you finding that it's simply economic, or are there other important reasons to look at eText? Is the interest more than economic?

Spiwak: It's far more than that. But many institutions don't realize all the implications until they are drawn into considering eText from a cost perspective. There are indications that the cost of electronic course content will be anywhere from 60 to 95 percent less than buying traditional hardcover books. That is, of course, very compelling.

Grush: Then, beyond cost savings, what are a few of the reasons institutions are interested in electronic textbooks and course materials?

Spiwak: The functionality of a fully interactive, electronic text--not just a PDF file of a book--provides many more learning tools. Especially now with adaptive learning strategies, the digital format has been highly leveraged in learning designs. Just a few examples of learning tools and strategies that are drawing interest: student highlighting, annotation, and search; faculty formatting, text selection, and editing; sharing/collaboration features; faculty monitoring of student progress through work/exercises; incorporation of analytics; interactive text and live links; audio and video resources--and much, much more. ADA issues can usually be solved more easily, removing barriers for accessibility and putting all students on a more even playing field.

Grush: Are we really just at the beginning of what we'll see happening with eText on campus?

Spiwak: I think we have seen the first few little waves--with the big waves yet to come. There are enough institutions out there already beyond piloting eText, and many more just starting implementations.

Top Ten eText Considerations

Ten questions higher education institutions should consider as they approach eText

By Rand Spiwak

1. How informed and knowledgeable is the institution with respect to current eText technology? How does one acquire this information?

2. What is the institution trying to accomplish with eText?

3. Does the institution have "buy in" from all key areas of the institution?

4. What time line constraints exist with respect to pursuing eText?

5. What tools are needed to ensure success?

6. How will the institution measure eText success?

7. What will success mean for the future of eText within the institution?

8. How does an institution implement eText adoption?

9. Does the institution have contractual textbook-related obligations to address?

10. Will eText cause the institution to lose revenue currently necessary to operate internal bookstores or the loss of the source of auxiliary funds necessary to support institutional financial aid and other initiatives?

Courtesy Rand Spiwak rand@etextconsult.com

Grush: What are some of the possibilities for collaboratives, or perhaps consortia--in terms of organizing within higher education to provide some community support or structure for the big move to eText?

Spiwak: Of course there are eText materials available from publishers, or from OER providers. Certain creative faculty produce their own eText materials, and there is a growing case for student-generated content.

But for overall implementation strategies, until now, most institutions have worked individually to pull all the pieces together for their own move to eText. A very important part of that is seeking appropriate pricing for content, though there is more to it than that--hardware considerations, connectivity, and much more.

There is a growing movement to put together a national consortium of all types of higher education institutions, to address all of the issues surrounding eText. Just this past week, the Lumina Foundation convened 35-plus higher education institutions--leaders in content and media--to discuss the possibilities for a new higher education consortium for eText. This is the type of collaboration that will ultimately be very helpful for all institutions setting foot in what for many is a new realm.

[Editor's note: Rand Spiwak (EVP/CFO, ret., Daytona State College) and Brad Wheeler (VP for IT and CIO, Indiana University) will appear on a panel, "Changing Publishing Models," at the CT Virtual Leadership Summit this Thursday.]

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