This blog post was written by Laurence Patterson, Edinburgh Napier University.
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. A fundamental objective of the project was to take steps not only to distribute the eTextbooks across the online Amazon Kindle network, but also to embed, as far as was possible, within the learning and teaching of both academic institutions involved.
The objective was successful to some degree, through the life of the project. The Further and Higher Education sector has certainly turned the corner when it comes to understanding the significance of digital learning materials. ENU’s library, along with many others, has a ‘digital first’ acquisition policy, and students and academics are offered instruction in finding electronic materials in their first few weeks. Digital discovery is now the principle way that the sector offers information to its users.
The two eTIPS eTextbooks published offer universal interest for undergraduates and postgraduates, discussing student preparedness for research and project work. Through word-of-mouth introductions, at UHI, a number of module and programme leaders pledged, at an early stage, to introduce to their teaching the first eText, created by eTIPS in 2016. Despite the project evaluation team’s efforts to reach out, it was clear that feedback was very limited – academics had said that whilst they had mentioned the eBooks in passing to their class, they had no way of knowing if the students had downloaded and were reading them.
Why might this be? In a University, the cycle of an Academic Programme, from an Academic Team’s point of view, may be up to five years, with Programme Validation affecting everything that came before. At the end of the cycle, the Programme Leader must normally prove the capability and viability of the Programme, should look to rewrite content, and bring up-to-date core and recommended reading. After Validation, it may be difficult and troublesome for an Academic Team to bring in new core reading for anything more than formative assessment – a suggested reason as to why eTIPS’ eTextbooks haven’t been more widely adopted for learning and teaching.
But in 2015, and then again in 2016, Edinburgh Napier’s Masters in Blended and Online Education used the eTIPS publishing model, and the resulting first eTextbook itself, as a case study, asking its students to critically evaluate methodology and output. The comprehensive and constructive feedback returned was offered to the eTIPS team, whose subsequent work on the second eTIPS eTextbook was informed by this.
Over the 2016/2017 teaching cycle, and after both of eTIPS’ eTextbooks had been published, new efforts were made by the project team to bring light to the creative process, for academics, and to the eBooks themselves, for students and Programme Leaders. eTIPS’ authors gave talks to colleagues both in UHI and ENU, with time devoted at internal Staff Conferences, in academic publications, and in corridor conversation. Academics were interested in the idea of writing something that could talk directly to their students, and wholly to the course content, and which could be used across a number of cohorts. The team felt momentum build over the year, and surveys returned this time would suggest moderate, but still informal use of the titles.
For years, students had been used to accessing electronic materials – perhaps a journal article or chapter of a book, normally for a limited time, from a central resource, mediated by their University’s library, without direct cost to them. The eTIPS model turned this around and bypassed the library, permitting the student to download to a Kindle (or computer) their own copy of the entire text, for a small amount of money, from Amazon.
In 2016/2017, the eTIPS team took the decision to produce the eTextbooks as print-on-demand paperbacks, making them available to purchase from across the Amazon network, as well as to borrow from their academic library, and UHI and ENU now had these in stock. The move appeared successful, with more loans than expected taking place, and a commitment from at least three Programme Leaders at UHI to bring one of the books – either in print or as a Kindle title – onto their core reading list. As we approach the final six months of the project, eTIPS evaluators are ready to speak with students, to discover the degree to which ‘in-house’
publishing may benefit learning and teaching engagement across an academic institution.