This blog post was written by Professor Frank Rennie*, Lews Castle College, University of the Highlands and Islands
e-TIPS was an experimental project, so it would be wrong to predict a massive sea-change in the adoption of e-textbooks, but our experiences allow us to speculate on potential implications and opportunities for the future use of e-textbooks in education.
Firstly, the ease of production, distribution and promotion of the e-textbook is so straightforward that it is hard to see why this will not be a preferred means of globally distributing educational texts in the future. Given the basic quality requirements of a good topic, a good writer, and a relevance to readership demand (whether for entertainment, or for knowledge acquisition) this e-textbook production model offers an unprecedented opportunity to enhance education. A key element of the model, which needs to evolve with time, is the institutional motivation for the production of e-textbooks. Does the university simply wish to brand itself as a source of top-quality academic books? Is the intention mainly to re-purpose the work of the university academics, (i.e. work already produced for another purpose) or to commission new works of text? Is the intention to distribute the e-textbooks freely as an incentive to further studies? Should the e-texts be produced as a potential income-stream for the university, or should they be distributed at the lowest possible price to be affordable to international students? These are matters of institutional policy, rather than technical aspects of e-textbook production, but the decisions will influence the number, style, and educational purpose of all subsequent productions.
Secondly, the implications of this model can be applied to a very wide range of publication types other than just standard textbooks. The format may not be optimum for high-definition photo-books, but for standard texts with a few illustrations there are possibilities of making available as institutional products everything from extended essays, subject monographs, creative writing collections, research dissertations and consultancy reports, as well as conference proceedings and collections of themed papers. The e-textbook format is ideal for texts which need a quick turn-around, as well as for minority interest subjects, or limited-demand specialities. With an appropriate attention to the quality of the proposed contents, this production model could offer a great opportunity for the democratisation of scholarly information, giving early-careers researchers, students, and experienced writers an equal opening to make their work available to a global readership
The production and distribution model selected for the e-tips project was through Amazon Kindle, and it is recognised that this might not be everyone’s preferred choice, but there were three clear factors in this decision. As already indicated, the practicalities of turning the completed manuscript into a e-textbook is very easy and well-supported through the Kindle formatting. Secondly, in the publication process, a number of tasks which can be quite complex for conventional hard-copy books, such as the pricing for different countries, the promotional opportunities, and of course the global distribution of the finished product, are easily selected and subsequently dealt with by the online supplier. Thirdly, there is a distinct advantage in making your e-textbook available through a platform such as Amazon with its mass popular appeal, rather than to expect that readers will seek the publication on your university website, or discover the book by chance.
Since we started this project, Amazon have extended their services to enable e-books to be converted into print-on-demand paperbacks, and we have taken advantage of this service to enhance the availability and flexibility of our e-textbooks. There is now global availability of both the original e-textbook, and the paperback subsequently re-produced from the same file, and we have ensured that paperback copies are also available in all our university libraries.
The final challenge is to agree how the various tasks of the e-textbook production model can be embedded in the normal, mainstream work of the university so that a greater amount and variety of scholarly materials is available to a wider, international readership. We have largely solved the practicalities of e-textbook institutional publishing, and what now remains is a question of changing academic culture and the behaviour of individual scholars.
* Frank Rennie is co-author of both eTIPS publications – Undertaking Your Research Project, and How To Write A Research Dissertation. He is Professor of Sustainable Rural Development at the University of the Highlands and Islands in Scotland and Assistant Principal at Lews Castle College UHI. His research interests are in new approaches to online education and networking for sustainable rural development. See http://www.lews.uhi.ac.uk/frennie and https://uheye.wordpress.com/ or @frankrennie Contact mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org