Indiana University has been working on its own institutional level digital textbook system, and last month it released a report on its ongoing efforts to switch to digital textbooks. The signs are promising.
A total of 22 courses covering 1,700 students have participated in the new digital textbook program, with classes spread across history, Italian, business, telecommunications, psychology, math and astronomy. The diverse selection was more random than deliberate; participation in the program depended on individual professor or instructor and their preference for or against digital textbooks.
The students in 12 of the courses were surveyed at the end of the semester, and the reading habits of all the students in all 22 courses were also tracked.
The reading habit statistics provide some fascinating insights into how students really use textbooks. Nearly 7 in 10 students never printed any pages of the textbooks, while 19% printed 50 or more pages.
The surveys also provided some interesting data. The primary textbook platform was the laptop (63%), with desktop PC coming in a distant second (11%). Tablets and eReader barely even made the list; only about 1% of respondents used them.
The survey also revealed that the popularity of digital textbooks varied wildly, ranging form 84% to 36% (in a class where the text was required but never used). In fact, most of the popularity ratings could be matched fairly closely to whether the instructor referred to the textbook.
One important detail that sets IU apart from other digital textbook programs is that it has negotiated volume purchase agreements with a number of textbook publishers, including Wiley, Bedford Freeman & Worth, W.W. Norton, Flat World Knowledge, and McGraw-Hill Higher Education. These deals allow IU to offer students a lower rate for their digital textbooks.
But that lower rate also comes at the cost of forcing students to buy the digital textbook. The textbook cost is bundled into a course fee for given class.