47 percent of undergraduates wish their teachers used more eTextbooks.

Faculty and students seem to agree that digital course materials will figure heavily in the future of higher education, but instructors are struggling to find the time and support to actually adopt eTextbooks in the classroom, according to a study released by the Educause Center for Analysis and Research.

The report examined 23 colleges and universities that collaborated with Educause, Internet2, McGraw Hill, and the eTextbook provider Courseload in a pilot program that provided eTextbooks to more than 5,000 students and faculty in nearly 300 courses.

“While IT clearly has a role to play to support, deliver and help design new methods of providing digital course materials, it must collaborate and co-lead with many other groups,” the authors of the report recommended. “Each institution has a different culture and a different set of strategic priorities that will influence its e-materials strategy, projects and services, but all we need to work across multiple platforms.”

The study found that less than half of the faculty incorporated the digital texts into their courses, and just 40 percent of students said they received in-class orientation for the eTextbooks.

The adoption of digital course materials can’t merely involve faculty, the authors said, but empower and incentivize them.

In courses where faculty adopted eTextbooks with more aplomb, students said they had more positive experiences with the digital course materials.

See Page 2 for what effect eTextbooks have on a student’s studying habits.

“All the usual challenges of innovation and change apply,” the authors said. “The early adopters and evangelists lead the way, the recalcitrant resist at every step and the majority can be brought along with assistance, compelling use cases, incentives and time.”

A majority of students reported having little enthusiasm for the eTextbooks, with less than a third saying that the materials improved their reading or studying habits. At least 40 percent said eTextbooks had no effect on their learning.

This does not mean that students are opposed to the technology, however. In fact, an earlier Educause Center for Analysis and Research report found that 47 percent of undergraduates wish their teachers used more eTextbooks.

The primary motivation for students adopting digital course materials is cost, with convenience also being a factor. The report said that frustration resulting from lack of support and problems using their devices to access the materials outweighed the student’s appreciation.

Forty three percent of the students said they were unsure if they would enroll in a course with a mandatory eTextbook fee. Nearly a fourth of students said they definitely would not. Similarly, in the Center’s earlier report, students expressed a preference for open educational resources over eTextbooks.

“Without the cost savings, students would continue to incur high expenses for course materials or to forego them entirely (as many do currently with expensive paper textbooks in an effort to economize,” the authors said.

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