New pilot program assesses e-textbooks in classes

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This semester, certain UC Berkeley students will not have to wait through long lines at the bookstore for their textbooks. Instead, they will have access to their books for free in an electronic form.

The campus began participating in a nationwide e-textbook pilot program this fall that aims to understand how an electronic textbook platform will affect students’ and faculty members’ academic experience by providing free e-texts to select classes.

“UC Berkeley seeks to learn not only about what might make a new business model work but also whether the use of e-texts and other forms of electronic content affect the teaching and learning process,” reads a campus statement about the program released Monday.

Eleven faculty members from seven campus departments and colleges have signed on to participate in the pilot this semester, joining a group of universities nationwide that are piloting the program, according to the release.

UC Berkeley associate professor of history Brian DeLay, whose History 7A class is participating in the program, said that while it is too early for student feedback regarding the e-textbooks, he is optimistic regarding its future.

“I’m very impressed with the platform, and I’m hopeful that students will find it a powerful tool,” DeLay said in an email. “And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that it’s free this year.”

Along with DeLay’s students, other students in the program will have access to McGraw-Hill electronic textbooks via an e-reader platform called Courseload, which is accessible through bSpace.

The campus is one of 28 schools participating in the second pilot run of the nationwide e-textbook program, which is sponsored by the higher education technology nonprofit Educause and networking consortium Internet2. The first pilot run took place in spring 2012 with five universities nationwide participating, including Cornell University and the University of Virginia.

The e-text program was first created due to the rising price of paper-based textbooks and “consumer acceptance of eBook platforms,” such as the Kindle and iPad, according to a report by Internet2 on the findings from the first pilot program.

In the first pilot program, many students from the participating universities reported that while not having to pay for a textbook was an advantage, they found the e-textbooks clumsy and at times difficult to navigate.

Alex Berryhill, a UC Berkeley sophomore and a student in DeLay’s History 7A class, said using an electronic textbook was a change that she is still getting used to but said the money she saved in not having to pay for the textbook is a real benefit.

“I’d be happier using a book in front of me and being able to highlight, but the e-book saved me $100,” Berryhill said. “And for the kids who have iPads, I’m sure it’s a really normal book-reading experience.”

After the pilot is over at the end of the semester, the campus will administer a survey to gain user feedback on the e-textbooks. Findings from the campus pilot program and experiences at the other universities participating this semester will “contribute additional data to knowledge about how this form of content can best serve students and faculty alike,” according to the press release.

Sara Khan covers academics and administration. Contact her at [email protected]