This is part one of a post on the eTextbook UnConference hosted at the University of Illinois, on June 28-29th, 2012. According to unconference.net,
the term “unconference” arose as people in the technology industry started making conferences that stepped out of the traditional models, which had involved presentations selected months beforehand, panels of speakers, industry sponsors talking about their products, and “trade show” exhibits.
The unConference is meant to create a space for peer-to-peer learning, and collaboration driven by the ideas of the attendees as opposed to a preset agenda. As you may be able to guess, so many ideas and topics were generated and discussed at this event, it would be impossible to provide a succinct discussion in one sitting. This post is designed to provide you with a basic overview of the UnConference. The second installment will provide you with more detailed information around the big ideas generated from the UnConference, as well as the next steps being explored by the group. In a future installment we will discuss eTexts at Purdue.
This UnConference provided a format for approximately 100 faculty members, researchers, librarians, educational technologist, developers, academic and commercial publishers, EDUCAUSE, and bookstore representatives to discuss the opportunities and challenges facing higher education in respect to eTextbooks in three ways: collectively, in small groups, as well as through “Dork Shorts”. Dork Shorts are 5 minute individual showcases of how eTextbooks are being delivered in various academic settings.
The overarching goal of the Unconference was to allow attendees an open environment for exploring the complex domain of issues stakeholders should be aware of in respect to eTextbooks, as well as to develop an understanding of what various parties hoped to achieve as a result of meeting.
I attended all of the working groups related to large eTextbook initiatives and partnerships, where the discussions touched on topics including:
- the challenges to implementing interstate large scale partnerships; for examples, IP and other legal issues that may not be consistent from state to state. There was also discussion around statewide initiatives that have shown success in respect to learning outcomes for students.
- Student receptivity and experiences of eTextbook use
- Technical considerations in offering or supporting eTextbooks
- The importance of and best practices in designing accessible eTextbooks for students with disabilities
- New business models for offering eTextbooks
Universal concerns that arose from all of the people in the sessions I attended included:
- Making sure accessibility drives the evolution of the e-book. Many agreed that developing accessible eTextbooks would be of benefit to all students, not just those with physical or learning disabilities. This coincided with the idea of external regulators being involved to ensure the development of consistent standards.
- Technology training is needed to help everyone understand the capabilities of e-text, (i.e. the possible functions that can be built in to enhance learner experience, that go past simply developing an electronic .pdf file of text). Research shows learners experience greater achievement when features such as collaborative note taking, are taken advantage of to their fullest potential.
- What is the most cost effective way to develop eTextbooks? This question explored how to reduce the cost students spend on books, the cost/benefits of inter-institutional partnerships, the opportunity cost of self-publishing, as well as cost of time associated with learning more digital platforms for the purposes of accessing different resources.
This is just a small sampling of what was discussed. A larger working text is being compiled from this meeting, which will (hopefully) establish clear next steps for academic institutions answers on how to best integrate eText into their scholarly activities. Stay tuned for Part 2.
Senior Educational Technologist