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Phoenix Forward

5 ways digital textbooks are improving education

Electronic textbooks assist with online learning

Earlier this year, President Barack Obama challenged the nation’s schools to embrace digital textbooks within five years. While this is a new concept to many, University of Phoenix has used digital textbooks for more than a decade. University digital textbook guru David Bickford describes five ways this shift is changing education for the better:

1. Logistics

One advantage of digital textbooks is students may access content anywhere, anytime, without the need to print, ship or store physical books.

“[Our] digital textbooks initiative was initially a response to the logistical challenge of shipping textbooks to [our] students and faculty members all over the world,” says Bickford, vice president of academic affairs. “‘The delivery truck ate my textbook’ was becoming the University’s version of ‘the dog ate my homework,’” he explains.

Standardizing digital textbook content for all University students helped solve this problem.

“At most colleges and universities, textbook adoption decisions are made instructor by instructor, and most purchasing decisions are made student by student,” he says. “That gives everyone a lot of autonomy but erodes buying power.”

Bickford believes more institutions should centralize their purchases and rely on faculty members with subject-matter expertise to recommend appropriate textbooks.

2. Cost

Digital textbooks are often cheaper than the paper alternatives, especially when large institutions negotiate more favorable pricing terms, he says.

“Because of our buying power, we can often license a package of digital content from several books for less than the list price of any one individual book,” he explains. And because the University does all book purchasing for its students and includes the cost in posted course fees, it helps prevent bookstore “sticker shock,” according to Bickford.

3. Quality

Paper textbooks can become outdated quickly, while digital content is constantly evolving.

“To date, the focus has been on making digital textbooks equal to print,” Bickford says. “Now, recent initiatives offer the possibility of surpassing print with embedded multimedia content and quicker updating of content as subject matter knowledge evolves.” Digital textbooks also include online highlighting and annotation features.

4. Accessibility

A major component of Obama’s digital textbook initiative aims to level the educational playing field by giving low-income students access to the same quality of course materials as their higher-income counterparts.

Bickford notes that the same phenomenon applies to the various campuses and student populations at University of Phoenix. “Students at small, recently opened campuses have access to all the same content as students at large, long-established campuses — online students likewise,” he says.

5. Interactivity

By incorporating traditional textbook content with the interactive capabilities of the Internet, digital textbooks can better prepare students for the high-tech, 21st-century world. “We integrate [textbooks] into our own learning platform through the same portal as [students’] class discussions and assignments,” Bickford says.

“In the future, we hope to support tablets and mobile reading environments and to add social media features, allowing students to share bookmarks and comments with one another.”

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