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Tuesday, February 19, 2013

All-Rental Campus Tries Out E-Textbooks

Like many higher education campuses across the U.S. this academic year, the University of Wisconsin-Stout is testing the use of electronic textbooks for undergraduate courses. What’s different about this pilot is that UW-Stout is one of maybe 15-20 schools that’s had an extensive textbook rental program in place for decades.

In other e-text trials, a significant number of students said they would rather study from paper books but would be willing to trade them in for digital ones if it meant considerable savings. The students in Stout, though, already enjoy such savings with print rentals. Currently, the school charges a $170 annual book rental fee—the same amount students on other campuses might pay to buy just one textbook.

For UW-Stout students, that means price wouldn’t motivate them to opt for digital course materials. However, all Stout undergrads have their own laptop computers, and that may have played an influential role in boosting student satisfaction with e-textbooks. In other pilots, students who had to use immovable desktop machines to access digital course materials were far less happy with the experience.

recent report from UW-Stout showed students had mixed feelings about the pilot going in. More than half were interested in trying e-textbooks but almost two-thirds would have preferred to stick with paper, given a choice. The pilot is now in its second semester and has expanded from 200 students in five courses last fall to 1,500 in 40 spring-term classes.

The report says students appreciate the interactive qualities of the digital texts and not having to haul as many books around. They also like not having to pick up and drop off rental books each term.

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