Are Textbooks Obsolete? An Education in the Impact of Electronic Textbooks

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They are aided in the process by a newfound ability to connect directly with the end users of their products-the students-points out Susan Spilka, Wiley's corporate communications director. "I think the ability to communicate directly with students, the end users of our content, has really been revolutionary. We can do a lot of outreach and research."

Students, the ultimate end users, are clearly a key constituency, and the impacts on them are significant. The cost of textbooks is an obvious concern for students, and etextbooks help to address this, says Williams. "We realize, as a publisher, the high cost of these materials to students and the electronic format certainly allows us to reduce the overall cost of our content offerings to the market."

Ease of access is also a boon for students who have access to content anytime, anywhere, says Lyman. "One of the great benefits is that they don't have to lug around print textbooks," he says. "This better matches the way they study and access all of their media, so it becomes a better experience."

And the pedagogical experts say electronic delivery can improve learning. "One of the great things about electronic delivery online is that it allows us to change the pedagogy that we can deliver content in to adapt to different learning styles," says Williams. "So, if you're a visual learner, there's a lot more interesting visual things we can present in the electronic format that we couldn't with a traditional textbook." This can also apply to enhancing the experience with audio and video.

Gregory St. John, VP of web publishing technology at Wiley, says, "Students are some of our best advocates." Feedback from students collected by Wiley over the past 3 years indicates that 97% of students felt the online resources were easy to use, 88% said that it improved their understanding, and 84% would recommend it to instructors, he says.

While there are still students who prefer to access textbooks the traditional way, Eckler notes that this group is likely to diminish over time. "The natural progression is that those power users are going to be the larger population as they're growing up." Preschool children are already becoming comfortable with accessing and using online content-as they grow up, says Eckler, "this is going to be the norm."

Instructors, of course, represent a different demographic. For example, many current instructors did not grow up with technology and are, consequently, not as comfortable making this shift. "Some of our older professors have always taught from books and [would] like to continue to teach from books," says James. "Some of the younger faculty are much easier adopters; they're used to this technology." The same is true of students: Some enjoy being able to read and learn online; others like marking up and having a hard copy available. "Making notes in the margin
is still something that people feel comfortable with. ... Do you like to cozy up to the fire with a book or your laptop? It's a personal preference," says James.

However, James points out that there are definite benefits for instructors. "One of the advantages from a professor's standpoint is that all of the new revisions are so much easier to implement," he says. There are no worries, for instance, that students will inadvertently get an old edition. "You just download, and it's there." Etextbooks also enhance interaction, he points out. "You're going to be able to have Excel budgets, PowerPoints, videos, and links embedded right into the text, allowing a much more in-depth academic experience."

In addition, notes St. John, the ability to provide workflow tools for both students and professors helps to save time for both groups and improves the teaching results. Williams agrees. "Knowing that if you're in a big lecture with 500 students, these tools can help you really identify who's getting it and who's not very quickly. That's very powerful, and they see that," he says.

Instructors represent one significant barrier to widespread adoption of etextbooks. Not, however, the only barrier.

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