How e-textbooks can support student success

Switching to electronic materials has helped students at Texas A&M University-San Antonio (TAMU-SA) stay in school and achieve higher grades, writes Tracey Hurley, a dean at the institution, in eCampusNews.

Leaders at TAMU-SA's business school decided to switch to e-textbooks when they realized the skyrocketing cost of books was putting so much pressure on students that they would sometimes not buy the books for certain classes—which hurts their grades or might even cause them to leave school.

Problems that might seem minor—like missing a textbook—can lead students to stop out

Textbook costs have risen dramatically, by 1,041% between January 1977 to June 2015. Unlike other products, the books are somewhat protected from supply and demand: students must purchase a specific textbook in order to get through a course.

Under TAMU-SA's new e-textbook program, administrators build a fee into tuition for each course that uses digital course materials. This way, the cost of the digital course materials is covered by students' financial aid. Hurley estimates the program saved business school students over $2.5 million on textbooks—an average of $1,374 per student—in the 2015-16 academic year.

There have been academic benefits to the program as well, Hurley writes. Administrators pre-load the course materials into the learning management system, so students can access them from Day One of class. Faculty report that this helps students get off to a strong start in classes. Faculty also say that they can move more quickly through course material because they never need to stop and wait on the next textbook to arrive at the campus bookstore.

Finally, students say they appreciate that having the books integrated into the learning management system means that the system contains everything they need to complete their work. They also like that they no longer need to lug heavy books across campus.

Hurley offered the following recommendations for institutions who may want to build out their own e-textbook programs:

  • Start with a small pilot program;
  • Invite faculty to be a part of the process; and
  • Be open to different publishers, which can help build faculty buy-in.

(Hurley, eCampus News, 5/5).

The cost of books and supplies is one of students' biggest financial concerns

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