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Pilot Program Finds Cost Is the Primary Factor Behind E-Textbook Adoption

Cost is the main reason why colleges and universities are shifting from paper to electronic textbooks, according to a new report from the Educause Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR). Other motivating factors behind e-textbook adoption include availability, portability, functionality, and innovation.

The report, "Understanding What Higher Education Needs from E-Textbooks: An Educause/Internet2 Pilot," is based on the an e-textbook pilot program that Educause and Internet2 conducted in the fall of 2012. Twenty-three colleges and universities participated in the pilot program, and the publisher McGraw-Hill Education and the e-textbook platform provider Courseload worked together to deliver e-textbooks to over 5,000 students and faculty in 393 undergraduate and graduate courses with a median class size of 28, according to information provided by Educause and Internet2.

According to the report, both faculty and students find traditional paper textbooks too expensive and want a less costly alternative, but they also question whether the current publisher-driven model will ever offer significant savings. "Without cost savings, students would continue to incur high expenses for course materials or to forego them entirely (as many currently do with expensive paper textbooks) in an effort to economize," stated the report.

Other key findings of the report:

  • Faculty and students want a choice of platform for reading e-textbooks, including the ability to read textbooks on their smartphone or tablet;
  • They still want the option to choose paper textbooks;
  • They want the ability to access their e-textbooks offline when not connected to the Internet;
  • They want the option of opting out of e-textbooks and using alternative sources;
  • Faculty and students need support to help them make the most effective use of the new textbook formats; and
  • Their expectations of e-textbooks are driven by their experiences as consumers and as users of institutional applications.

"This study demonstrates that institutions and the marketplace must first remove barriers that exist even in today’s paper textbook market, most notably cost,” said Susan Grajek, report author and vice president for data, research, and analytics for Educause, in a prepared statement. “Challenges innate to electronic content must also be addressed, including availability of materials where and when students need them, compatibility with the devices students own and prefer to use, and the kind of functionality that comes from good interface design. The solutions will come from many sources, but through this study students and faculty have clarified their needs.”

The full report, "Understanding What Higher Education Needs from E-Textbooks: An Educause/Internet2 Pilot," is available through subscription to ECAR. A publicly accessible executive summary can be downloaded from the Educause site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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