E-text Initiation

I’m not a fan of e-texts. I decided that I wouldn’t like them before I even encountered one. I avoided them at all costs.

AU began converting courses from real textbooks to e-texts in 2013, under its E-text Initiative. At that time, AU announced that all courses with suitable texts would be converted to e-texts within three years. Interestingly, I first heard about AU’s e-text initiative from an article in The Voice Magazine.

At that time, I had only completed a few courses toward my degree. I felt dismay at the possibility of having to deal with e-texts. To me, reading an e-text is like reading a PDF or online content: inconvenient, fatiguing, and not really absorbing.

I checked carefully which AU courses were converting to e-texts. If any were on my to-take list, I pushed them to the bottom of the list. I wanted to make sure I took courses that still had textbooks first. I was pleased to hear that, due to student concerns and AUSU lobbying, further e-text conversions have been put on hold.

However, that still leaves me with a few courses I want to take that are already sporting e-texts. Recently, I enrolled in one of those courses. I knew I would take it sooner or later, and it just worked out better in my schedule to take it now. I resigned myself to the e-text, with the same degree of enthusiasm I hold for medical examinations (you know which ones) and driving through Toronto.

I’m only one week into my e-text course, and my initiation is not complete. I’ve resisted buying the textbook so I can give the e-text a fair chance (the $160 textbook price tag helped me resist.) Here’s what I find so far:

The Good. The initial download process went smoothly. The instructions provided in AU’s Student Manual didn’t seem to match what I was seeing on the VitalSource Bookshelf site, so I followed my intuition and soon my e-text was loaded on my computer. I was pleased to see that I can download the e-text to multiple devices (including my tablet, but not my Kobo.) Once downloaded, I found the e-text simple to navigate and the tools (like highlighting text) straightforward. A menu of user highlights appears next to the contents navigation bar for later use, which will be a handy study aid. The audio text option was a surprise; I don’t know if I’ll use it, but I’m sure some students will enjoy having their text read to them. And when I copy illustrations or sections of text to my notes, Bookshelf includes bibliographic information in my choice of APA or MLA style.

The Bad. E-texts are laid out just like most real textbooks, which is portrait orientation. My laptop’s screen is landscape orientation. Consequently, I can only view up to half of one page at a time (unless I want it really small) which is especially annoying when text is laid out in columns. On my tablet, I can change the screen orientation but the screen is still too small to display a full page in a readable size. Another aspect I find restrictive is not being able to make notes in the margin. The e-text does have a notes feature built in but it uses an inflexible format which I don’t find useful. It would be easier if I could print the page to make my notes. Which brings me to:

The Ugly. Students can opt to print their e-text, but I can’t imagine how much time and money it will take to print out my 600+ page e-text. Time especially, since my e-text only permits printing in 10-page increments (not all e-texts have this restriction.) That’s right, I can’t even take it to Staples to print out unless I want to send over 60 print jobs. And my home ink-jet printer isn’t designed for this kind of printing capacity.

So, one week into my e-text journey, my feelings toward e-texts hasn’t changed much: I’m still not a fan. I’ve learned a bit, had some pleasant surprises, and some less?than-pleasant realities. Will I make it through this course using an e-text? Yes, definitely. But I’m glad this is just a one-book course. And I hope I can complete all my multi-textbook English and History courses before the march of e-texts resumes.

Barbara Lehtiniemi is a writer, photographer, and AU student. She lives on a windswept rural road in Eastern Ontario. Follow Barbara on twitter @ThereGoesBarb.

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