Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Guide to eContent for North Shore Community College

In addition to the eContent Fair that we had in late may, the NSCC Goverance Information Technology Committee has constructed this guide to understanding and using eContent materials at our college.  It should provide faculty with the clearest sense about how to move forward using eContent.  That being said, if you have further questions about using eContent in your class, we welcome you to contact us to talk.  

Facts about purchasing e-books:
More and more students and faculty are getting on the e-book bandwagon.  The most common reason given is the reduced prices as compared to regular print books.

In most cases, e-text books aren’t bought so much as rented.  Often times, students only have rights to the e-book for the duration of semester or two.  In some cases, students will have rights to access the e-book until such time as a new edition is printed by the publisher.  Special allowances can sometimes be negotiated for e-books that a student will likely need throughout their college career (a nursing handbook for instance.) 

Publishing companies will offer pricing discounts on e-books based on the number of students in each class.  The more students who purchase the e-book, the lower the cost of the e-book will be.  Additionally, larger prices breaks are available if several classes or even an entire department decide to go with one e-book or a single publisher.

There are often different prices for people purchasing solely an e-book and for those purchasing the e-book along with additional online supplementary material.

The NSCC bookstore is part of consortium of college bookstores and, therefore, probably gets better prices on e-books than students buying on their own would.  

Many companies offer custom text book options.  This allows teachers to select just what they want out of a single book or allows them to combine sections of different books into one package for their students.  This can lower the cost of purchasing as the students don’t need to buy whole books when just chapters will do.

Students have the ability to download a copy of their e-text book to an e-reader such as a Kindle or an iPad.  As of right now, this type of feature is not widely possible, so most publishers encourage students to make use of an online portal. 

Facts about the nature of e-books and curriculum:
Most e-books are more than just flat text files or PDFs.  

Many publishers have created online course material to supplement their e-book offerings.  This supplemental material often takes the form of an internet portal.  

Students will have a username and password that they set up with which to log into the publisher’s portal.  There they may find various tools such as:
  • Interactive version of the text book that allows for the insertion of student and instructor notes as well as bookmarking and highlighting
  • Videos
  • Interactive diagrams
  • Sound recordings
  • Sample test questions and guided examples
  • Assignments or notes left by the professor
  • Simulations and Learning Games
Professors can use the online portal to gather and track information about student use.  For instance, a professor would have the ability to see how often each student logs into the site and for how long they stay logged in.  Some publishers have even gone so far as to collect data about what sample questions students are answering correctly or incorrectly.  This could help a professor determine which content areas the class is struggling on.  

Note: Not all e-books have speech to text capability which may make accessibility an issue.  Some books will work with 3rd party accessibility software like JAWS (for more information on JAWS please contact Disability Services.)

Depending upon the publisher, some portals may interface directly with NSCC’s Learning Management System (ANGEL.)  This means that students can access the e-book materials from within an existing ANGEL course.  In virtually all cases, at a minimum, a link to the publisher’s portal can be placed within ANGEL.

Facts about e-book support:
Publishing companies provide technical support for their products to faculty and students.  There are FAQs and basic troubleshooting tutorials available 24x7 on the publishers’ websites.  Additionally, depending upon the publisher, live phone or internet chat support is available during daytime hours (for example, from 8AM – 7PM.)

Note:  While the college can provide instructional support, it cannot provide technical support for these online portals.

To support faculty who are making the transition to e-books, many publishers offer training videos as well as user group discussion panels and meetings.  

Some publishers will send a specialist to the campus to conduct live trainings for faculty or even provide in class demonstrations for students.  Often that specialist is then available at later date via phone or email.

Questions to ask yourself before you decide to use e-books in you classes:
  1. Do I want both the print and e-versions of the text books to be offered to the class?
  2. If I’m using several text books, is it possible to combine them into a single custom text book?  If I am only using a few select chapters from a text book, is it possible to create a custom text book?
  3. Are other professors at the school using the same text book or publisher?  Perhaps greater cost benefits can be realized by placing a combined order.
  4. Will using e-books and the expanded online tools offered by the publisher change my goals for the class?
  5. Am I prepared to fully utilize all of the tools that come with e-books or am I just looking to provide the students with an electronic version of the book that is cheaper than a print version?
  6. How, if at all, will my in class instruction change because of the options afforded me by the e-book?
  7. How much training will I need before I feel comfortable teaching with the whole e-book package?
  8. What type of usage would I and my students make of the publisher’s online portal?  Would I want to sign into the publisher’s portal during class and teach from that?  Will I ask students to complete assignments in the publisher’s online portal?
Next Steps:
Before making a decision about e-books please contact Academic Technology at itd@northshore.edu and/or Information Systems.

Academic Technology has experienced instructional technologists and designers that can help you formulate a plan to effectively use the new tools that will now be at your disposal.  Additionally, they may have pre-existing contacts or arrangements with the publishing company you’d like to use.   

Working along with you and Academic Technology, the Information Systems department will be able to help determine the amount of ANGEL integration that can be achieved.  This would possibly alleviate the need for a professor or students to manually register at publishers’ websites.  Additionally Information Systems can check to make sure that the computers available on campus are properly configured to support the media content provided in the publishers’ portals.