Students Still Resist Electronic Textbooks, But Regents Forge Ahead to Replace Paper

The Board of Regents will spend a little time Thursday discussing technology in the classroom, specifically electronic textbooks. Students in five classes on five campuses tried out e-text platforms from two vendors, RedShelf and VitalSource, during the spring 2017 semester. Agenda Item 9-J summarizes the results, which have led the e-Materials Committee and the Academic Affairs Council to recommend contracting VitalSource to be the sole provider of e-text services in the Regental system.

The Regents aren’t adopting VitalSource because students in the pilot went ga-ga for their e-books. In the initial survey three weeks into classes, majorities found the e-texts easy to access and use (and RedShelf got significantly more positive responses for ease of use), but over 60% of e-text users said they’d still prefer to use printed textbooks. Fourteen weeks later in a follow-up survey, that preference for print ticked up less than a point for RedShelf and dropped five points for VitalSource users, but that still left majorities of users saying they’d rather stick with print.

SDBOR, Agenda Item 9-J, June 2017, p. 7.
SDBOR, Agenda Item 9-J, June 2017, p. 7.
SDBOR, Agenda Item 9-J, June 2017, p. 8.
SDBOR, Agenda Item 9-J, June 2017, p. 8.

Just as a majority of students in the pilot program still think paper is better, a majority say they would not recommend e-texts to their peers. That result fits previous surveys showing student resistance to adopting e-texts. For perspective, the 2015 EDUCAUSE Student & IT Survey shows that more students wish their faculty made more use of recorded lectures archived online than wish their profs used more e-books:

EDUCAUSE 2015, cited in SDBOR Agenda Item 9-J, June 2007, p. 9.
EDUCAUSE 2015, cited in SDBOR Agenda Item 9-J, June 2007, p. 9.

But if a majority of students perceive e-texts negatively, the agenda memo says the Regents will just have to change that perception by emphasizing to students the significant price discounts. However, as the Regents’ memo to students in the pilot program this spring notes, the cost savings are muted:

  • E-texts are typically only available for a defined duration (e.g. 180 or 365 days), though some allow perpetual access. This varies depending on the platform or publisher.
  • E-texts cannot be sold back like used books [Student e-Text Pilot Welcome Letter, Attachment III to Agenda Item 9-J].

Can’t keep some, can’t sell any, plus, can’t share with a friend! According to the memo, our universities will attach e-texts to their courses, add a mark-up for the bookstores, and bill every enrolled student automatically.

I certainly see the merits of electronic texts. I try not to accumulate any blog documents in paper form. I like reading and marking up PDFs on my tablet. I like documents with more fluid text for my phone. But information does not stick in my head as well when it comes to me in electronic form. Books offer certain physical and visual cues—key information at the bottom of a lefthand page, toward the front or toward the back that my computers do not replicate.

But the transition is coming, kids. Watch for more e-textbooks coming to a Regental campus near you.

2 Responses to Students Still Resist Electronic Textbooks, But Regents Forge Ahead to Replace Paper

  1. Porter Lansing

    Start the kids on it and they’ll embrace it the way boomers embrace paper. It took me two years to stop missing the tactile soothing of the morning paper when I switched to the e-edition. It wasn’t fun and when I’d go to a public place (barbershop, coffee shop) and see a print edition of the paper I’d always pick it up. It felt good just to hold a newspaper again. I’m over it, now. But, the best part is that a monthly sub for the paper is $30 bucks and the e-edition is $4.33. My daughter went through nursing school with only electronic textbooks.

  2. I certainly prefer being able to carry my entire bookshelf to class on my computer and still have room in my bag for groceries. Heck, I downsized from a big HP laptop to an Acer netbook when I was at DSU specifically so I could fit everything into my fanny pack instead of having to bring the big backpack. Then I’d get really annoyed if anyone handed out papers that I had to fold up and take home. :-)