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Middlesex U Issues Free Digital Textbooks for Every Course

A UK university will be the first in that country to give students access to digital textbooks for their classes. Middlesex University expects students to save an average of £450 ($681). The institution will be working with Kortext, which provides the digital textbook platform, and John Smith's, a university bookseller. Under the four-year agreement, students will receive one free digital textbook for each class during the new academic year. Undergraduates typically take 12 classes, so they'll receive 12 books over their three-year program of study.

The new initiative follows on a 5,000-student pilot that took place last year in the Schools of Business and Law. In that program the university handed out 20,496 textbooks, all chosen by the faculty, as they will be this year. A post-pilot survey found that 97 percent of students rated the program as making a "positive contribution" to the cost of study; 95 percent rated the pilot "positive" in terms of providing relevant course materials.

The project is being coordinated by the university library service, which consulted with the academic staff in choosing the digital curriculum.

"This scheme not only helps students in terms of financial support, but has educational benefits in providing students with the essential learning materials they need to support their studies," said Matthew Lawson, assistant director for academic support and learning resources. "It is coordinated by the Library [to] be understood by students as an extension of their existing library materials and support.... The intention is to provide materials to all students rather than select groups or departments."

The use of Kortext software will allow students to keep digital notes, highlight text, do searches and create collaborative groups for sharing notes. The books may be accessed on e-readers, smartphones, tablets and laptops.

As part of the program, the university will track how students are engaging with the learning materials. The initial tracking will focus on how the books are being used by each module and student cohort and how prevalent the use of features such as group note sharing is. The school also expects to analyze data to see whether there's a correlation between the level of usage and degree outcomes.

"The free e-text books made a huge difference to me, both financially and academically," said marketing graduate Inayat Patel in a press release, referring to last year's pilot. "Each of my textbooks would have cost between £30-£70, and I saved around £250 over the last year alone. It also made studying easier. With the e-texts I had less to carry around and could study on the move, and annotating was easier because I could do it electronically rather than use fiddly post-it notes or scribbling in margins."

He added that friends at other institutions "thought it was a great idea because they said they'd held off buying books until the last minute, and then when they needed them they weren't available, so they felt they were playing catch-up. For me, that wasn't an issue as I had them automatically provided from the start."

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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