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IU eTexts initiative rapidly growing, surpasses $10 million

Program ensures all students have digital access to the materials they need, for every class—at a discount

BLOOMINGTON, Ind.—The cost of traditional college textbooks continues to rise, but at Indiana University, more faculty and students are finding that the way to affordability is through digital educational materials, or eTexts.

This past summer, IU’s pioneering eText initiative surpassed $10 million in total revenue as it grew to more than 40,000 students in the last academic year. It is accelerating with more than $1 million in year-to-year growth, and this current fall semester alone totals $3 million with more than 27,000 IU students having at least one of 55,000 licensed eTexts from 1,350 titles. 

Total student savings through the eText initiative, as of summer 2016, easily exceeds $15 million over the price of traditional textbooks.

“IU moved early and assertively to use the vast scale of the university to negotiate better prices to help reduce the spiraling costs of textbooks,” said Brad Wheeler, IU vice president for IT and Kelley School of Business professor. “The shift to digital education materials—eTexts—is proving a win for students and faculty with better value, convenience, and more insight into how students study and learn. We are grateful to the authors, publishers, and our partners who continue to grow this win-win model that can reduce the cost and improve the quality of a university education.”

IU faculty commenced formal eText pilots in 2009 in an effort to simplify the way students acquired digital course materials at lower costs.   The rapid growth of the program is now achieving its initial four objectives: 

  • Drive down costs of digital materials for students
  • Give faculty access to high-quality materials of choice
  • Develop new tools for teaching and learning
  • Favorably shape the economic terms of how students acquire digital course materials

In subsequent years, IU has emerged as the leader among research universities for the breadth of its eText offerings. When faculty members select eTexts for their courses, students automatically get course materials and content delivered straight to their digital devices—at a substantial discount and ready to use weeks before that first class.

Unlike paper textbooks, students can highlight, add notes and collaborate with their classmates and instructors through software integrated with IU's educational systems, and students can use the same software no matter which publisher produced the eText. Students can print their eTexts to any printer and have continued access to their materials for as long as they’re enrolled at IU.

IU Bloomington sophomore Hannah Winne can personally attest to the effectiveness of digital materials. "My psychology professor assigned an eText last year," she said. "I liked that the professor could highlight the important parts of the book, and the chapter questions could direct you to the section it was asking about."

Often, eTexts just make college easier for students. “eTexts have changed the way students, including myself, access class information,” said Jacob Moore, a senior in IU’s Kelley School of Business in Bloomington. “There’s no longer the hassle of having to buy new or used textbooks, and you have the luxury of not having to return rented ones. My book bag has become lighter as textbooks can be accessed at my fingertips—anywhere and at anytime, allowing for greater flexibility in my studies.”

IU eTexts are powered by the Unizin Engage e-reading platform, which integrates with the Canvas learning management system to provide secure access to course materials via any device. This consistent approach across many sources of educational content— including no-fee open access materials—benefits students and faculty members in a multitude of ways.

“The cost savings associated with eTexts are just one positive aspect of many. Instructors are able to tap into real-time analytics to develop new teaching methods, and they can now share notes with students and make multimedia materials, such as video clips, part of the curriculum,” said Stacy Morrone, IU associate vice president for learning technologies and professor of educational psychology. “Our current line of research is examining the relationships between instructor engagement with eText, student engagement with eText, and student achievement at the institutional level.”

The accelerating growth of eText adoptions at IU reflects the growing comfort of students and faculty with an increasingly digital world and pervasive devices. While students have the ability to print or even order a bound version of the text, evidence shows that very few do. For faculty, it means that they can have confidence that every student has all the course materials on day one (or earlier) of class. Students don’t have to spend hours shopping for deals, hoping that ordered materials arrive, or rushing to sell back paper books—sometimes even before final exams.

The Unizin Engage eReader platform also means that IU has full ownership and control of all IU-generated data. “This enables our faculty to apply their research expertise to better understand how students study and learn as we don’t have to ask for our data back,” said Morrone.

The growth of eText adoption on all IU campuses and for IU Online Education has been organic.

“As soon as I heard about the eText initiative, I was excited to participate,” said Kevin J. Jones, associate professor of management, Indiana University–Purdue University Columbus. “eTexts are valuable and truly essential instructional tools. I use them to enable students to fully understand the text and effectively apply it to various ‘real-world’ situations. Additionally, the lower cost of eTexts is a significant advantage for students to keep their course expenses reasonable.”