Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Thursday, January 27, 2011

University testing electronic textbooks in pilot program

Electronic textbooks are being tested at U-M with a pilot program in five courses this semester.

The campus E-Textbook Working Group, which comprises representatives from the U-M Library, the Office of the Registrar, Information and Technology Services (ITS), and LSA Instructional Support Services, is conducting an e-textbook trial in the following courses:

• English 229: Professional Writing
• Civil & Environmental Engineering 212: Solid & Structural Mechanics
• Mechanical Engineering 481: Manufacturing Processes
• SI 510-Special Topics: Data Security and Privacy: Legal, Policy and Enterprise Issues
• Urban Planning 539: Methods of Economic Development Planning

Students and instructors in these courses are receiving electronic access to textbooks via CTools, using the Coursemart platform. Throughout the semester, the working group will conduct surveys and focus groups to learn more about student and instructor expectations and actual experiences with e-textbooks. The data collected will be incorporated into a report with recommendations to campus leadership about e-textbook implementation.

According to the chair of the working group, Susan Hollar of the U-M Library, the Coursesmart platform provides Web access to textbooks for 60 percent less than the cost of new print copies, though access to the text ends with the semester, making the fees paid more akin to rent than purchase. Students can print from the e-textbooks, although printing is restricted to 10 pages at a time. For a small fee, students also can buy an e-version of the text when the rental period is over.

"We hope this pilot illuminates the advantages and disadvantages of actually using e-textbooks in courses. We also need to learn more about what motivates instructors and students to use e-texts. How much of a role does cost play? Do students still prefer reading print?" Hollar says.

And depending on how e-textbooks are implemented, it may not simply be a question of students making individual choices about electronic or print.

"For example, Courseload, another e-textbook platform, uses a different model. Fees are added to courses in exchange for student access to all materials," Hollar explains. This model likely would provide overall savings as compared to an entire class purchasing new printed texts, but doesn't take into account that some students don't purchases textbooks, and instead rely on library copies or other sharing mechanisms.

It will be difficult to fully assess cost issues, because access for students and instructors participating in the pilot is free. But Hollar says she expects to collect a great deal of information about issues like ease of access, portability, use of functions like highlighting and note taking, and the reading experience.

For more information about the pilot, contact Hollar at To learn more about library-related textbook efforts, go to