Laurier pilot project takes on e-textbooks

etextbooks - lena

Graphic by Lena Yang

I have to pay $800 for physical textbooks this year. Well, at least that’s what Wilfrid Laurier University’s telling me to pay.

Opting for digital textbooks means more money in my pocket for Wilf’s Spin-Dip, Phil’s nights and one more pair of those cute gold leggings for Homecoming. And I’m not the only student in this boat.

Sometimes we compromise our education by investing in sub-par resources to save money and time. Digital textbooks may be cheaper, but are not openly available to the average student.

Secondly, classrooms are becoming more fragmented. It’s not unlikely in a group project setting to have one member with a pirated textbook, one with the digital version, one with an out-dated physical edition and one with the recommended physical materials. The current strength of the textbook black market simply makes it too difficult for faculty members to create an accommodating learning experience for all students.

Starting this semester, Laurier will be piloting an e-textbook pilot project on both Waterloo and Brantford campuses, which hopes to explore the implications of a mostly paperless classroom.

The basis of the project is to address issues of “accessibility, affordability and achievement,” said Wayne Steffler, assistant vice-president of administration and the pilot project’s lead.

Faculty members who chose to partake in this project will integrate digital resources into their teachings and will make a focused effort to not rely on physical materials.  Students participating will not have to pay for their digital textbook, but the success of this project will see the cost of textbooks factored into the Laurier invoice. This allows all students to gain access to the same materials at the same time to ensure a levelled resource pool, which facilitates student collaboration.

Steffler emphasized that the project’s success “really starts with the faculty member,” and credited the volatility of the textbook black market to the lack of communication and guidance that faculty members receive when choosing course resources.

“Right now the current model, for faculty members, [price] is not a big deal when they meet with publishers and talk about what they are going to use,” Steffler explained.

“They might not know what the cost of a specific book is before they decide to adopt it. They might not know what kind of used market is out there as well.”

Professors often get so caught up in the raw contents of the textbook, they overlook essential facets of learning materials that will affect the way their classrooms function, namely the quality of the digital resources.

“We’ve really tried to refocus and look at more bringing the best value to the student and communicating that to [faculty members] that things are changing,” said Steffler.

Addressing this bottleneck in communication is paramount to transitioning our learning environment to a primarily digital platform.

This project will address issues in accessibility and ease-of-use by integrating e-textbooks straight into MyLearningSpace, Laurier’s online learning management system.

“We want to set the platform to make sure that we’re ready for it. So students don’t have this disjointed experience where they’re going into all sorts of readers and platforms,” said Steffler

Soon gone are the days of strenuously switching between MyLearningSpace, NelsonBrain, McGraw-Hill and Supersite to fully grasp the introductory chapter. Additionally, this functionality of digital textbooks could mitigate the risk of accidentally clicking on that Facebook tab, and inevitably losing focus on your task at hand.

The success of this project could see a large shift in the way students and faculty members collaborate and learn in university. Digital textbooks may soon become a guilt-free purchase. You can buy all the gold leggings you want, while being confident in your learning resources.

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