Growth in eBook use 2012-2014
A recent 2 year study (Educause Study published 6 July 2015) into the use of digital textbooks in the USA by students at University shows that
- e-textbook use has increased
- Lower cost and convenience remain the top reasons students purchase an e-textbook, not the interactive features designed to enhance learning
Revealingly the instructor’s role has not changed significantly in the past two years, suggesting the need for a significant change in the way that tutors and course designers approach delivery of course content. This may be because few publishers have as yet taken ePUB3 to heart and texts are not designed for interactivity. It may be because of the restrictions to access to the latest eBooks in Africa. My experience of trying to get the latest content in digital format into the hands of students via African libraries is a tale of procrastination and avoidance of communication and protecting print business models.
Clearly for many institutions they face problems in the multitude of formats from different suppliers and the fact that there are multiple platforms for delivery of available content. It is not easy for an institution to have their own Digital Platform to present content to students in a single interface.
The students themselves find aids to study not so much in the ease of access to content across devices but in the advantages of searching within texts for information. This is described as a real win in the study for many students.
In Africa, there is likely to be much more enthusiasm for eBooks because of the ease of access outside of what are often overcrowded library spaces, where air conditioning may not exist and the likelihood of graffiti or damage to print books is not a hazard to overcome. The simple act of not having to carry so much weight should not be overlooked in what persuades the decision to buy digital content.
When the cost of textbooks has increased so much (prices have increased 82 percent from 2002 to 2012 according to US Government Accountability Office College textbooks: Students have greater access to textbook information) there is a natural delay in purchasing textbooks. Digital textbooks should be a lower cost making it more affordable for students to acquire.
Africa has unique circumstances and most notable is the massive growth of mobile phones and networks plus improving payment gateways to make it easier to perform transactions and to acquire content outside of the institution. eBooks need to be considered more by the University department as a basis for course content. At the moment eBooks are a mere facsimile of the printed book. In the near future we can expect a growing demand for interaction and integration of local and published content.
At LibStor we approach this new digital knowledge landscape with great enthusiasm but recognise that as far as Africa is concerned, publishers’ decision making about access to content and business models favours the USA and the West. We are doing our bit to help bring products and system solutions into the continent and to develop the market but there needs to be political led discussions with educational publishers and course developers to make knowledge transfer from the west accessible to African students. The phrase “its the economy stupid” comes back to mind. If African states are to prosper there needs to be a greater level of sharing of digital knowledge across continents.
The truly exciting opportunity is for digital content to support interactive course content. For courses to be much more integrated with catalogues of content and to make easy reference to the appropriate chapters, articles etc without the need for the institutions to bear the cost of expensive search systems and the overheads that these incur. We know the catalogue and loan model of knowledge dissemination will not disappear quickly. But there is a brave new world of learning and knowledge acquisition out there that can reach more people and take them further, faster.