A Book in the Hand: E-Text Initiative

As the semester comes to a close, It’s time to start planning your course schedule for 2013-2014. What prerequisites does your program require? How best to balance the course type and workload with work and family? How will you synch commitments with classes?

And increasingly students are also asking, How quickly can I take my prerequisites before they make the switch to e-texts?

Change is coming with Athabasca University’s controversial e-text initiative, which will eventually replace all course materials with e-text versions. Courses will make the switch on a rolling basis, and AU has released a tentative list of classes that will soon be changing to exclusively e-text delivery.

Visit any gathering of AU students?whether in person or online?and the subject of e-texts will eventually come up. It’s a painful subject, and an increasing number of students are unhappy about the switch and uneasy about the future.

While e-texts offer some flexibility, the problem is that AU, despite its commitments to accessibility and flexibility for students from all walks of life, will not be offering the option to choose hard copy texts?unless the student wishes to purchase them on her own dime. For some courses, custom e-texts, created from several sources, aren’t even possible to obtain commercially; the only hard copy option is to print reams and reams of paper.

In last week’s issue we highlighted some general student concerns with the decision to change course materials delivery to an e-text-only platform, and we invited students to sound off. These are a few of the letters we’ve received:

Student Letters to the Editor

Re: ?A Book in the Hand: E-Text Initiative,? by Christina M. Frey, v21 i21 (2013-06-07)

While I can understand that AU needs to trim costs in order to deal with funding cuts, they should not forget that their purpose is to serve their students.

Does the E-Text Initiative better serve their students? How?

Many students will be negatively affected by the switch to e-texts. Although those who have multiple devices on their desk and in their pockets might not be aware of this, not everyone has unlimited access to a computer. Of those who do have unfettered access, not everyone takes their computer (or mobile device) with them. A textbook is portable and available. An e-text is only available if you have a device with you. Myself, I have a laptop, which does not go with me everywhere that a course textbook does.

AU has always acknowledged that its student base is “mature.” Yes, we are. And many of us are getting to the stage in life where our eyes are significantly less tolerant. Reading a text on a screen is very uncomfortable for short periods, and impossible for long periods. I can read a (paper) book for hours; I cannot read e-text for very long. E-text will limit my capacity for AU courses dramatically, much as lower enrollment will limit AU’s capacity to serve its students.

This student, and I suspect I’m not alone by a long shot, likes a paper text that I can highlight and make marginal notations in easily. I like a text that can go where I go: to the library, to the cottage, on a plane. I like a textbook that I can keep for future referral. I cannot support the E-Text Initiative. Students at the very least should have a choice — there will certainly be some that prefer e-texts but they do not speak for the rest of us who do not.

Barbara Lehtiniemi

Re: ?A Book in the Hand: E-Text Initiative,? by Christina M. Frey, v21 i21 (2013-06-07)

I’ve been a student at Athabasca for 2 years now, doing courses as work permits. I really enjoy the distance learning and the flexibility of courses.
While I do look forward to e-texts, I am a bit concerned about the loss of paper texts. I’m a medic in the Canadian forces and have on a few occasions been sent out to the field on exercises and operations while studying a course. When I would get a few hours down time I would read through my text and try to keep a steady pace going so I could finish my course on time. Most of the time when we’re in the field we don’t have access to electricity, let alone an Internet connection. This would make it very difficult to study from an e-text unless it was offline and available on a device which either used changeable batteries or could be charged with my pocket socket. I think the e-text is a great idea but it would also be nice to have the option to use a book at no extra cost. Even though they’re heavy and make rucking harder, it’s a lot better than spending hours cranking a pocket socket.

Thank you for your time.
Jared Pope

Take a look at what other students are saying, and then weigh in yourself. How do you feel about the move to e-texts? Do the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, or vice versa? How do you feel e-texts measure up in terms of cost, personal study habits, study features, accessibility, visual issues, etc.? Over the next few weeks we’ll discuss these in further detail and speak with students about their concerns over how the e-text initiative will affect them. If you feel passionate about this topic?your future?make your voice heard! Email us at voice@voicemagazine.org and tell us about your biggest e-text concerns.