Over the spring 2012 semester, Cornell University, Indiana University at Bloomington, and the Universities of Minnesota, Virginia, and Wisconsin at Madison participated in an etextbook pilot to test a new model for delivering textbooks in order to save students money. The basis of the pilot came from a model pioneered at Indiana University in 2009 by Bradley C. Wheeler, the university’s vice president for information technology. The model promoted the idea that if a university bought etextbooks in bulk and charged a mandatory course-materials fee to cover the costs, the university could negotiate a much better price per book for their students.

Recently, a report was released about the spring pilot, providing the results of a survey conducted on students and faculty by Internet2, a high-speed networking group. The feedback has been mixed, showing that many students approved of the money being saved, but they didn’t like reading on electronic devices and found the etextbooks “clumsy.” Many of the students complained that the etextbook platform was hard to navigate and most students and professors acknowledged that they didn’t use their etextbook’s collaborative features, which includes the ability to share notes or create links within the text. Interestingly, Mr. Wheeler observed that the students of professors who did utilize the collaborative features reported having a better experience than traditional print textbooks. In addition, only 12 percent of students took the option to purchase the print copy of their textbook.

Mr. Wheeler still supports the etextbook model, arguing that it is normal for any group to complain about unfamiliarity when adopting new technology, saying that “with technology, many things change with repeated use. People have lots of early first impressions as they experience new things, and then over time you start to see things become more mainstream, as the technology improves and skills and even attitudes toward use improve.”

The pilot is the result of a partnership between Internet2, McGraw-Hill, Courseload, and the participating universities. Twenty-four universities, including Dartmouth College, Middlebury College, Michigan State University, and the University of South Florida, will join the pilot program this fall.

If you would like to read the full article about the pilot’s report, you can visit:

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