The Challenge of eBooks in Academic Institutions #edtech

The goal of the JISC Report into the  ‘Challenge of eBooks in Academic Institutions’ project is to help “orientate senior institutional managers and to support institutions in the effective adoption and deployment of eBooks and eBook technology. As a consequence the project helps to support the wider ambition to enable improvements in the quality and impact of teaching, learning and research and meet rising staff and student expectations.”

“At present, for academic institutions, the ebook paradigm largely remains one of PDF format ebooks consumed using PCs. This is now dissolving. The ebook landscape is changing rapidly, driven to a large extent by developments in ebook readers and tablet devices which have enabled better ways to consume econtent.”

The report is divided into three main themes: creation, consumption, and curation, and is supported by infographics for each, case studies and other resources.

The Challenge of ebooks in Academic InstitutionsClickto view the infographics in full

“From a technical point of view ebooks are remarkably easy to create. There are a variety of ebook creation platforms available, some of them free. At the moment, from an institutional point of view, ebook creation is generally about re purposing existing content. This might be Open Educational Resources (OER) … or reformatting content created [through]the existing print book process …We expect to see more born digital ebook content as the market matures.”

“Libraries play a major role in the curation (management) of ebooks. But this position is being challenged, albeit only peripherally at present. Textbooks have always been a mixed economy where student bought resources are supplemented by the library. Commercial providers certainly see opportunity to go direct to end users or to provide course solutions directly to academics. These approaches are likely to lead to an increasing disaggregation of ebook content into smaller but coherent elements (‘chapters’ if we are to continue the language of the print book). This will present challenges, for example in how content is cited by users.”

“One of the major changes within scholarly communication in the last decade [or] so has been a transition from print to electronic resources. Ejournals are now the norm. The transition from print to ebooks is taking longer to reach critical mass despite potential in terms of discovery, access and portability. It is only as reading devices have improved that ebooks have been able to really meet the key consumer criterion of convenience. We can now expect the pace of change to quicken, not only in terms of improvement to the user experience itself but also in terms of business models. New commercial ebook platforms … are taking the opportunity of tablet devices such as the iPad to exploit enhanced content to deliver a much improved reader experience. These recent changes will no doubt overcome some of the barriers to ebook adoption by users that have been reported in much research on ebook usage to date. This presents a challenge for the institutional creation and curation of ebooks to deliver dramatically improved ebook experience, from discovery, access and consumption that can compete in a diverse and competitive market.”

The JISC report highlights a few areas ebooks, and therefore ebook publishers and hardware manufactures, ought to be focusing on. These are:

  • Focus on the user.
  • Share knowledge and experience.
  • Join staff together (library, learning technology, and teaching staff).
  • Collaborate and share the load.

View the full report, project outputs, resources on the dedicated JISC website:


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  • Jenn Palilonis

    This is a great project. Another interesting phenomenon is that eTextbooks are increasingly becoming interactive, multimedia tablet-based experiences. Yet, many of the active reading strategies (annotation, highlighting, and the like) are not adequately supported. Of course, the tools are there. But they generally attempt to mirror print strategies instead of offer new tools for the touch screen digital environment.

    • Thanks Jenn. Do you think there ought to be more support and/or resources to encourage academic staff to develop and write their own
      resources or books, or is it the publishers that ought to be more aware of the needs of the student? Where is the tipping point for this
      technology … authors or publishers?

      • Jenn Palilonis

        This is a great question, David. I am engaged in a major research project right now that is looking at what happens to our active reading strategies when textbooks migrate from the traditional print environment to the interactive, multimedia infused tablet textbook. Early findings suggest that although the active reading strategies learners enact in this new environment are similar to those in traditional settings, the actual behaviors…ways of annotating, reorganizing, cross-referencing and browsing their notes…are different. It’s also clear to me that at present, most interactive, multimedia infused tablet textbook platforms offer annotation and other active reading tools that have been designed to MIRROR what students do in the print environment, rather than cater to the unique affordances of the tablet environment. This is problematic because at the end of the day, the mechanics of the interface may get in the way of an effective active reading experience for learners. I share all of this because it has huge implications for your question. I think that BOTH authors and publishers need to take a step back and make sure they have a clear understanding of how the technology and content presentation formats affect active reading and learning. Only THEN can we produce tablet textbooks that truly serve their learner-users well.

        • Thanks Jenn. Do you think authors of textbooks care enough … or even have enough influence over the publishers to make a difference?

        • Jenn Palilonis

          Ha! Well, I think SOME textbook authors care. I do. But I am an interaction designer and visual journalist who is finishing a PhD in Human-Computer Interaction. So, I suppose I am not exactly the typical author. What I can say, though, is that there is a lot of opportunity for improving the interfaces and tools for eTextbooks. Rather than build them because we can, we need to look at how people learn in that environment and what active reading and learning tools best support them. At the end of the day, authors won’t influence publishers. But the audience might…I hear all the time from students who HATE eTexts because they don’t find them to be very usable. Yet, in concept, they like the idea of digital texts.

  • Angela

    I am a Training and development graduate student at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Starting grad school after being away from college for more than 10 years was a bit eye opening for me. I like the touch and feel of my physical books and could not bring myself to order any electronically. As I finish up this program, I realize that we are living in a much different world. Had eTextbooks been available when I was in undergrad, I probably would have jumped at the chance to avoid carrying that heavy backpack all over campus. This research is important and textbook publishers need to see the true impact of conversion for the students, teachers, and the environment.

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