Wednesday, May 30, 2012

eContent: What's All That About?

Last week, as part of the Center for Teaching and Learning Assessment's annual "Teaching and Learning Conference," Academic Technology hosted an eContent Fair for faculty to meet with different publishers to discuss and discover what kinds of resources were available to them.  Over the two days, we had four different publishers talking about what they have available for a wide range of disciplines.  Cengage, Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson had representatives to talk with faculty about what more these is to offer besides the traditional textbook.

Some of our reasoning in offering this to faculty and moving forward to do this again in the future is the fact that publishers have come a long way in what they have to offer faculty.  Years ago, when faculty thought of ebooks in lieu of textbooks, they mainly thought of a digital form of the textbook either as a website or .PDF.  But the fact is, the resources that publishers provide for students and faculty are rather substantial.  As faculty, we struggle with assigning an expensive textbook that will be financial hard to justify for many students, especially after having paid for the class.  But I think if you want to get the most out of the price they have to pay for the textbook, it would be beneficial to make use of the digital resources that many publishers have to offer.

So what are some of these resources available?  What follows are some of the highlights.  Not all publishers have all the features mentioned, but many have a good range of them and it’s worth contacting the publishers to find out what resources you will be able to use.

Enhanced Content
With many of the ebooks today, it’s not just the text in digital format, but more content can be added or even customized for particular purposes.  Assigning specific chapters, supplemental links, primary sources, additional videos and sound clips can take a few minutes and clicks to establish the course materials in the order you want them accomplished.   Faculty can add their own customized content such as instructor notes, added links, and files.


Interaction
Not only can faculty annotate the text, but the tools are present for students to annotate their readings with highlight and virtual sticky notes.  This encourages students to interact and engage their text in ways that older ebooks certainly couldn’t.  Beyond this, some ebooks come with additional programs that might include games (crosswords puzzles, virtual flash cards, trivia questions, etc) and some even have simulations and video games that make students work through different problems or projects (such as a virtual body to explore in an anatomy class).  Discussion forums can also be created (often with suggestions for questions by the publisher or with the faculty’s own choice).


Evaluation
Many of the ebooks provide a pool of hundreds of questions per chapter to create quizzes and tests.  Some of the publishers have created adaptive software and ranked the questions so that students will get increasingly hard questions as they are more successful—increasing the challenge or meeting the student at where he/she is at.   When used as formative evaluations to determine a student's understanding, quizzes like these can be highly useful for learning. But beyond standard quizzes, many ebooks offers other useful elements.  Papers and major assignments can be submitted and graded online by the faculty who can draw upon a pool of comments generated by the instructor in present and previous courses.  With everything centered in the portal for the course, students can chart their progress and learn about where their performance is lacking or where they need more assistance.


In the large picture, the usefulness of eContent material is to get the most out of a significant investment for both you and the students.  Additionally, the various materials (and means of tracking) allow for the instructor to have a much clearer sense of what the students are learning and where they are struggling.  This can mean better results in the class as you can better tailor your time with students in accordance with where they need the most help.  If you are further interested in eContent for a book you are already using or in a text you’re interested in using, click through to the publishers, see what they have to offer, and contact a rep.

Do you use econtent?  What are some of the advantages and disadvantages?