Written by Laurence Patterson.
The eTIPS project, sponsored by Jisc, is a collaboration between The University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI), and Edinburgh Napier University (ENU). eTIPS saw two eTextbooks authored, formatted, and completed by academics and others. The two eTIPS eTexts published offer universal interest for undergraduates and postgraduates, discussing student preparedness for research and project work.
One workstream of the project saw the production and publication of companion websites, which accompanied each eText. For the first book, this is available to view, here:
and for the second, here:
Whilst acting as a promotional tool – a purchase link across the Amazon network was given, as was a preamble of content – sites offered content beyond what could be found in their respective eTexts. In adding elements of multimedia, asynchronous collaboration, and activities, the project team wanted to explore the degree to which the companion websites might have engaged learning beyond the reach of eTexts alone. The relationship between the two elements was such that a reader could engage with the eText but may then jump online to discover a broader set of knowledge.
Time was taken on the appearance and functionality of sites – the intention, to have them look good, and to work well. The team considered that users should be encouraged to return numerous times – content would be added regularly, and collaboration would be encouraged in discussion forums – the tone and feel of content should be appropriate.
All content on the websites was provided free of charge and, although a link to the sites was given from within eTexts, the reader was not required to purchase a copy before accessing. A chapter-by-chapter summary was provided on each site, typically through a video introduction by the chapter author, and with further linked, relevant resources that would encourage the reader to discover themes in more detail. Each summary would also encourage registered readers to debate themes pertinent to chapter content in the sites’ discussion forum. It was intended that this ‘drip feed’ of both guest lecturer content, and digital artefacts, would enrich the learning experience, maintaining interest beyond the eText, and encouraging return traffic.
Additional materials, more broadly related to the project work of eTIPS, were also added to the websites. In some cases, where colleagues presented at conference, and published research separately, papers, presentation recordings, and published articles, were made available there.
Although the team feel that the addition of rich websites to work carried out across the project is of great value, the success of this approach has been difficult to evaluate. Whilst, through questionnaire response and in conversation, students and academics mention the sites, they mostly do so in passing, acknowledging their intention and their value, to broaden learning. But evidencing any true efficacy for those individuals has not been possible – the eTIPS project timescales too short to engage at a concentrated level with University programme leaders, module leaders, cohorts of students. Website analytics are, on their own, ineffective determiners of why return traffic might increase or decrease.
Creating and supporting online content required dedicated time and professional knowledge, and investment of both should be a consideration for teams considering a similar approach. Whilst the eTIPS project ended in July 2018, the intention of the project team is to maintain support for the companion websites over a further year, and to then review their effectiveness.