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June 10, 2010

Is the e-book glass half full or half empty in UK academia?

There was a article about e-book uptake in the (US) university sector in the THE the other day, re-printed from Inside Higher Ed, The E-Book Sector.

The piece suggests that uptake might be less than the general hype around e-book indicates except in the world of for-profit online education (I'm not sure how that applies in the UK?):

Among the respondents to a 2009 Campus Computing Project survey of 182 online programmes at non-profit universities, 9 per cent said e-textbooks were “widely used” at their institutions, while nearly half said electronic versions were “rarely used”. Even fewer brick-and-mortar institutions are deploying e-books in lieu of hard copies, with fewer than 5 per cent citing e-book deployment as a key IT priority in the short term, according to another Campus Computing Project Survey. And according to data from market research firm Student Monitor, e-textbooks accounted for only 2 per cent of all e-textbook sales last autumn.

In the UK, the final report from the JISC-funded National e-Books Observatory Project apparently paints a rather different picture:

E-books are now part of the academic mainstream: nearly 65% of teaching staff and students have used an e-book to support their work or study or for leisure purposes.

My initial reaction was that these two statements seem at odds with each other but on reflection I think not - "nearly half said electronic versions were 'rarely used'" isn't that different from "nearly 65% of teaching staff and students have used an e-book", it's just got a different emphasis.

As with our own snapshots of 3-D virtual world usage in UK education, carried out on our behalf by John Kirriemuir (a project which has coincidentally just come to the end of our funding though John plans to continue the work in other ways), stats are easy to play with. Whilst it may be technically correct to say "all UK universities are active in virtual worlds", doing so isn't particularly helpful since the uptake may be extremely patchy across each institution.

Nonetheless, the 65% figure quoted by the JISC-funded study seems very high to me (based on my very limited experience of the uptake of these things). Are e-books really gaining ground in UK academia that fast?

(I note that the JISC study doesn't actually define what it means by e-book, other than to say "it refers to generic e-books available via the library, retail channels or on the web". I'm assuming that the study uses that term in line with the Wikipedia definition:

An e-book (short for electronic book and also known as a digital book, ebook, and eBook) is an e-text that forms the digital media equivalent of a conventional printed book, sometimes restricted with a digital rights management system.

but I'm not sure.)


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There's a difference between playing with the stats and not adding enough context, content or explanation. Added more of the latter to the VWW blog posting so it's more meaningful/useful as, yes, "all" wasn't particularly helpful.

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