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U Cincinnati and OhioLINK Research Digital Textbook Adoption

An Ohio research project is investigating just how students would prefer to get the text for their courses--whether in hard copy form, in versions suitable for mobile devices, or in some other digital format. An initial study done in fall 2008 suggested that student age and class format are factors that influence which format a student will choose.

Researchers include Charles Ginn, a field service assistant professor with the University of Cincinnati Psychology Department, and Stephen Acker, research director of OhioLINK's eText Project. Their statewide effort examined the results when 2,000 students enrolled in 14 introductory psychology sections were given the option of purchasing a bound, print copy of the new textbook for $134 or selecting an e-text version for $50. Since the text used in the study was new, there was no option for buying a used edition. Ginn said the study included traditional-aged students (18 to 24), non-traditional students, students taking courses in the classroom, and students taking courses online.

The survey found that 22 percent of the survey participants purchased the e-text, and that 41 percent of those e-text users reported preferring a digital textbook to the traditional hard-copy textbook. Students in online sections were slightly more likely to purchase the e-text. Traditional-aged college students were 1.73 times more likely to purchase the electronic text than students 24 years or older.

In exploring the need for a digital bookshelf, Ginn pointed out that college textbooks can now cost between $600 and $800 per academic quarter, even exceeding tuition costs on some Ohio campuses. "Something has to change," Ginn said. "An increasing number of students are simply not purchasing required texts, opting to depend on their professor's PowerPoint lectures or Googling [or using] Wikipedia."

Ginn added that the research project focuses on ensuring that the textbook selection process remains up to professors designing their coursework, rather than mandating material to apply to similar courses across the state.

The research initiative is part of the University System of Ohio's affordable textbook efforts in accordance with the State of Ohio's 10-year Strategic Plan for Higher Education. The strategic plan calls for "a high-quality, flexible system of higher education that offers a wide range of educational options, while driving down the average amount that students pay to among the lowest in the nation."

The Ohio Library and Information Network (OhioLINK), of which UC is a founding member, is an online library consortium that opens the collections of 88 university and college libraries, as well as the State Library of Ohio, to members.

The digital book project is currently bringing together psychology departments across the State of Ohio to offer students electronic textbook choices from five major publishers. Ginn said the goal of the project is to work with the publishers and university bookstores to provide students the alternative of purchasing textbooks or e-texts.

"We have visited a number of campuses in the University System of Ohio higher education system and have found consistent enthusiasm among our colleagues to come together to address this issue," Ginn said. "[The university's] efforts with our introductory psychology texts will serve as a model for similar efforts among our colleagues. This entirely voluntary effort will become a true manifestation of the concept of a University System of Ohio," said Ginn.

The statewide project is planning to introduce a digital bookshelf pilot to students taking introductory psychology in fall 2010.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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