AU’s Transition to Digital Textbooks

In recent years, AU has slowly begun implementing the use of digital e-textbooks for many courses.  Although many students welcome this change, the move has also proved controversial.

Initially, AU began a concerted effort to move online in 2002, of which Athabasca University’s eText Initiative is a continued strategy.  Over the years, other initiatives included EduSource, the Digital Reading Room, E-Learning Accelerator, as well as projects under the Community Adjustment Fund (CAF) and the Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP).

AU’s eText Initiative’s website statement reveals that they “will proceed with the provision of eTexts, where such media form exists, for all textbooks that are required in its courses.  This initiative will assist the university in attaining its commitment to being a fully online university and offering enhanced access and flexibility to quality learning.”

While a physical text will not be provided in courses that e-texts are adopted, these e-texts are fully printable, as well as linking students with the publisher to order a physical copy.  For more information, including how to create a VitalSource Bookshelf account, students are encouraged to visit the AU eText website.  In addition, ASD students may visit the Learner Support Services website for information about alternative course format materials.  Questions to AU for comments to The Voice Magazine were not returned.

AU student views have been mixed.  In a recent AUSU Council meeting, it was revealed that many students in the MBA program have been displeased with this option.  In addition, many students are upset that course rates have not been reduced simultaneously, while others find it difficult to study from an online text.  At times, physical textbooks can offer a reprieve from the hours spent in front of a computer screen.  In contrast, students who support the change believe that it reduces waste and fits into the approach of a fully online institution.

AU student Amy Mayer stated, “I personally love my eText.  I utilize features like search and read speech, which are not available with a physical text.  These features allow me to vary and enhance my studying … all I need to carry is my iPad.”  Similarly, Chris Marshall echoed this statement, “I like the E-books.  My only concern is how long they will be available to us,” while Veronica Evtushvski revealed, “I’ve always purchased eTexts when they weren’t provided in courses so this change has benefitted me.  I agree with Amy, they are just more functional for my purposes.”

In contrast, Shayla Livingston, “dislike[s] not having a choice between an etext and physical book.”  She stated, “I always end up buying the physical copy because I struggle and use time less efficiently when I’m reading on a computer screen.  It’s frustrating knowing that I’ve spent money on the same book essentially.”

According to Alice, a first year BA of Psychology, “I truly don’t like that they don’t send us a physical textbook.  Just look at the buy and sell feed.  Everyone is reaching out looking for textbooks that would otherwise be automatically provided.”  Similarly, Amanda Rollinson echoed, “Call me old school but I’d much rather have a book in hand as opposed to an eText.  That way, I can write my thoughts on the pages and/or highlight texts efficiently.  Athabasca should give their students the option to choose their preference on text material.”

Ashly revealed, “I prefer textbooks because I highlight and write notes right in my textbook to save time.  Plus, my eyes can’t handle much screen time.  A PDF version would be better because then I could at least print it way easier for less than buying the textbook.”  Additionally, Jessie stated, “I’d prefer it if they would provide a PDF to use as I have some good note taking software on my iPad and I would rather just import the textbook to it and go from there.”  Courtney revealed, “A PDF would definitely be nice!  But, I do have to say that I thoroughly enjoy the texts being in an online form.  It gives me more opportunities to study as I always have my phone with me.  So, if I have a free minute, I can open up my text and do some reading while I’m waiting in line for example.”

Other students, such as Carissa Ward like both options, “I like having the option to look something from your textbook up on your phone just in case, however I prefer a physical copy to mark up and colour-coordinate and leave notes!” Similarly, Chantelle stated, “I think there should be an option for which you want, and a cost difference.  I don’t understand how they took physical textbooks away but we’re paying the same amount!”

Mariah Zinnash stated, “I’m all for the use of eBooks so long as we get a slight discount considering this is soon to be our only option due to COVID-19.  However.  The inclusion of lessons exclusively designed for use with e-texts makes the course material more mobile and ultimately more marketable on the eLearning market.  It will allow more people to learn remotely and will ease Canada Post shipping services, freeing the postal system up for the shipping of essentials during the pandemic.  The positives out-weigh the temporary negatives and will allow students more flexibility, during a time when adaptability is the only strategy for national survival.”

This move to digital reading has not simply been solely an AU initiative, as other schools worldwide have slowly been switching to e-texts for a variety of reasons, including environmentally conscious ones.  Proponents also believe that another benefit of e-texts is their variety of features, including interactive tools, including hyperlinks and additional sources.

However, there have also been increasing debates whether e-texts are beneficial to student learning, in particular, the absorption of material through e-text.  Many are also concerned about additional strain in eyesight.  In addition, often, online versions are cheaper than physical textbooks, when costs associated with physical textbooks, such as warehousing, selling, and shipping are eliminated.  Ultimately, whichever one’s stance, it appears that at online institutions, such as AU, e-texts are here to stay.