Saturday, August 28, 2010

eTextbooks Are Only Part of the eLearning

Textbooks are clearly becoming a digital battleground and it is understandable that the pressure to go digital is being driven and is effecting everyone from the creator to learner.

The learner now wants the convenience of digital and search, annotate, print, bookmark, copy and link to what they need and at a price they believe is right to them. They don’t necessarily want to buy a tome which is dead once they finish or an ebook they can’t sell or pass on after the course is finished. The teacher now wants to create customised content that is relevant to their students. They want aligned teachers notes and access to additional materials to help on certain courses. They want to be able to inspect and adopt appropriate titles that provide current information. The institutions want to ensure value for all and to join the dots across their life-cycle to ensure all get the appropriate material at the appropriate time and price. The bookstore wants to integrate the physical and digital student’s needs into a single market offer.

We could go onto the librarian, the examination board and assessors, the buying authorities, publishers, the author and etc

So how do we create the appropriate ecosystem to satisfy these needs and is it one or a number of environments that are transparently linked?

At the University of Notre Dame they are taking digital learning one step further and doing a study of eReaders. The working group of students are from a broad array of colleges and departments and are evaluating the ‘creation, distribution, consumption and usefulness of electronic course materials in an academic setting’.

Alternatively, Matt MacInnis, whoo an ex Apple man, has started his Inkling venture and taking individual titles and sexing them up to fully exploit the iPad features. So students have to buy an iPad, a laptop, a smartphone and then fork out $70 a book or $3 a chapter. Somehow it is hardly education for the masses today.

One the other hand we still have today's textbook and the likes of Follet, Barnes and Noble and others believe that they can reduce the cost to students by some 50% through a rental programme. They allow the student to do all those things they want to do, highlight, annotate, bookmark as long as they bring the book back in reasonable shape that's the end of the transaction. Barnes & Noble who offer their rental service to about 300 colleges and universities across the US are now including eTextbooks which can be read through free e-Reader programs.

Nice idea but students can also buy it today and sell it at the end of the year themselves. There are now many variations on this rental model. However it has to compete with the used textbooks marketplace which has always been a strong and a way in which students can cut the cost of their learning.

There are others who wish to cut out the middleman and sell direct such as Coursemart, a JV consortia of the five higher-education publishers with has some 14,000 college e-textbooks on its iPad platform. Then there is print on demand (POD) and the use of the campus stores as POD hub. Finally,there is Amazon, who believe that they already have a large slice of the new and used and ebook, student market.

The challenge would appear to be not etextbooks but to meet the demand for an holistic model that is inclusive and not exclusive and that joins the dots and connect of teaching, learning, research, engagement, service and personal activities. Today however, digital and physical need to coexist and are not mutually exclusive.

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