Graydon, B., Urbach-Buholz, B., and Kohen, C. (2011) A Study of Four textbook Distribution Models Educause Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 4

Textbooks are a major cost of students (and parents), often exceeding annual tuition fees. E-textbooks offer a potentially low cost alternative model, but there have been a number of major barriers to their use.

This article is a useful analysis of different models for providing textbooks, but also suggest some ways in which to remove barriers to online textbooks. The authors state:

  • In preparation for campus-wide e-text adoption, Daytona State College completed a two-year comparative study of four textbook distribution models: print purchase, print rental, e-text rental, and e-text rental with e-reader device.
  • Though faculty and administrators may embrace e-texts, students often prefer to rent printed textbooks.
  • Institutions seeking to implement campus-wide e-text adoption should be prepared to address specific concerns, including faculty choice, infrastructure needs, student technological skills, cost savings, and instructional adaptation.

They conclude with a list of key considerations that need to be addressed:

  • Avoid top-down mandates. Institutions that require all instructors to simultaneously go e-text might be courting disaster. An effective approach will encourage, but not require, e-text adoption. Should reluctant faculty members observe demonstrable benefits in the classrooms of colleagues who have switched, they will soon decide to go e-text as well.
  • Know your technological limits. Investing in infrastructure increases and upgrades prior to going e-text — not during, and not only as needed — will help create student and faculty buy-in by demonstrating a commitment to the project and preventing technology failures.
  • Help students see the advantages. A sizable number of students who otherwise welcome technological expansion in their lives draw the line at textbooks. Clearly communicating to students how much money they will save and what new educational objectives they might meet will lessen resistance to this major change.
  • Involve student support services. Faculty are never an institution’s only teachers. Collaborate with IT personnel, writing consultants, learning specialists, supplemental instructors, on-campus tutors, and other support staff in the e-text selection, implementation, and training process to ensure that the assistance students receive campus-wide is both consistent and valuable.
  • Provide instructional support and training for faculty. Ultimately, faculty will bear the biggest responsibility for making e-text adoption successful. The development and dissemination of best practices for teaching with e-texts should be fully supported at the college, program, and department levels.

Implementing a new campus-wide solution to the problem of prohibitively expensive textbooks is not without risks. But….careful planning and piloting can help institutions develop strategies for using e-texts to ensure that this enduring problem troubles students much less in the future.

The article is packed full of interesting data about student preferences for textbooks and is well worth reading in full.


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