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Fionnuala Duggan

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The Digital Backpack

Posted: 25/04/2012 00:00

Last week London was abuzz as the publishing world descended on Earl's Court for the annual London Book Fair. Over the course of the three day event, publishers worked to tout their books, secure the next big deal and debate "hot topics" like digital, which has generated a lot of interest and highlighted the need for publishers to really think about the web, apps, devices and social media.

Amongst the chatter of the book fair, I read a piece by a journalist who said that whilst publishers have embraced simple text-based eBooks, few are ready to back anything more complex as it requires significant investment. In my opinion, that view isn't entirely correct. We're in a perfect storm of innovation, and I believe the publishing industry has responded magnificently. Just look at the partnership between Cengage Learning, Macmillan, McGraw-Hill, Pearson, and Wiley who set up CourseSmart; the world's largest provider of eTextbooks and digital course materials. On Monday, at the book fair, these publishers were on hand when CourseSmart's expansion into the UK and Europe was announced with its online eCommerce platform. Not really a sign of publishers not wanting to back anything more complex, is it?

eTexbooks and the rise of the digital backpack

Not long ago pencils, notebooks and print textbooks reigned supreme as classroom necessities, and are still a recent memory for most of us with Gen X and Y still suffering from the memories of lugging around heavy, textbook filled backpacks. Today, the higher education landscape and student experience is dramatically different as eTextbooks gain momentum and students acquire themselves a digital backpack. Thanks to significant innovation in technology, digital course materials, and the proliferation of mobile devices, today's digital natives are in a position to benefit from an enhanced, streamlined and superior approach to learning.

Students are not only embracing digital devices - including eReaders, smartphones and laptop computers - they are completely dependent on them and eTextbooks open up a whole new world for those students. Student respondents indicated that they used an average of three different digital devices on a daily basis, and 38% of the students surveyed said that they could not go more than 10 minutes without checking one (or more) of their digital devices. The proliferation of smartphones has led students to expect instant access to everything and anything, including their course materials.

Due to their flexibility and anytime, anywhere access, eTextbooks have become an attractive option for many students that frequently have to fit studying in between their other responsibilities such as work and internships. Three-quarters (73%) of students indicated they bring their textbooks with them "on the go" and nearly half (48%) of all students who own a tech device frequently read eTextbooks. With university fees set to rise, and the hassle of reselling your second hand books for next to nothing, the cost of eTextbooks is another factor attracting students, allowing them to save up to 40% on textbook costs by renting them online.

Thanks to the rise of eTextbooks, higher education students can now truly have a digital backpack. Additionally, by utilising eResource materials that provide interactive, assessment-based course materials, students can take quizzes and self-assessments in the palm of their hands. These new technologies and advanced learning resources allow students to study more efficiently and effectively, resulting in an enhanced learning experience that was not possible a decade ago.

Looking forward, this is an incredibly exciting time for both the higher education and publishing sectors. So, come September as students prepare for their new academic year don't be surprised if you see students walking a little taller with their digital backpack in tow.

 
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