We all recognise that good learning resources are key to students’ success at university. Encouraging students to buy textbooks has always been a struggle – tuition fees, living expenses and plain old having fun can all make demands on a tight student budget.
Libraries play their part by providing as many core textbooks as they can, but can’t always meet student demand. To solve the problem, some universities are now looking at publishing textbooks themselves, but why?
There’s no doubt that technology makes it easier for students to access the course materials they need. Digital texts have lots of advantages over their print counterparts, such as the ability to customise material for your students, ease of access by different devices, portability and better accessibility for different user groups.
Digital texts have lots of advantages over their print counterparts, such as the ability to customise material.
You can also make links to other material; make quick updates and production is fast and low cost
Collaborating with other universities can save time, money and headaches. In our ongoing pilot (see details in our case study, below), each of the participant universities had different areas of expertise when it came to publishing, and they worked collaboratively to make the most of their collective strengths.
For example, pooling knowledge of the publication process by discussing the possible advantages and disadvantages of adopting a house style for authors, and how rigidly it should be enforced, was a hot topic for discussion.
Now that more universities are looking into digital publishing for themselves, there are more opportunities opening up for collaboration.
Choosing the right platform
Technology can be both a good and a bad thing. All the interactive features mentioned above need to be planned and built into workflows and costing models, and considered in the choice of the format and platform’s capabilities to avoid problems and delays during the development phase.
Partners have negotiated most of these obstacles successfully, and have been keen to ensure their preferred method will be replicable for any future publications by using for example, easily available software.
There are some hidden functions that publishers routinely deal with such as the creation and distribution of metadata, using existing relationships with the supply chain to harness savings, and just generally using their extensive experience to make the finished product as good as it can be. This, of course, is where collaboration is likely to help as the pilot progresses – and might be an area for help from us in the future.
Content creators are frequently optimistic about the speed with which they will be able to deliver. With many years’ experience of publishing in the commercial sector under my belt, it was no surprise to me to find this cropped up in a pilot we’ve run! I can say with confidence that the early or even on-time delivery of draft material is a rare creature. Frequently this is the fault of no-one, and due to unforeseen circumstances, but can play havoc with schedules and budgets.
Universities need to show students they’re getting plenty of value for their tuition fees, and to ensure they have the right tools to make the best grades. Providing digital textbooks can help here.
Library budgets can’t keep pace with demand for digital or print copies of many popular textbooks, particularly when remote campuses or learners are involved. This approach could help to reduce budget pressures.
Students like to have the right resources for their courses, not feel they’re buying something with a lot of redundant material. They want easy access, when they need it most.
Knowledge provision for students has changed radically in the last decade or so, with the internet often the first port of call for today’s student and lecturer alike, accessed from a range of physical locations and on many different devices. Digital publishing puts universities on the front foot, ready to embrace this change.
A case study: does it work, and is it worth it?
One of my projects, institution as e-textbook publisher, seeks to assess the feasibility, sustainability, value for money and logistics of using online and digital material to provide high quality course materials at low or no cost to students.
Four higher education universities are taking part in a project to pilot the idea: University College London, University of Nottingham, University of Liverpool and the University of the Highlands and Islands with Edinburgh Napier University. They each took a different approach to the project, and each partner will publish two titles. The first two are due in a few weeks – watch this space for how they get on!
What next for the digital publishing project?
During the next phases of the project we’ll be evaluating the success of the actual books produced and the advantages and disadvantages of this method of publishing textbooks.
This pilot project will be invaluable to anyone in the higher education or further education community leading such change. Contact me by e-mail, email@example.com for more information.