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The E-Textbook Opportunity: The Time is Now for SUNY, Phase 2

Dean Hendrix

Project Team
  • Charles Lyons, University at Buffalo Libraries
  • Mary Jo Orzech, SUNY College at Brockport
  • Pamela J Peters, SUNY Delhi

University at Buffalo


Tier Two

Project Abstract:


This IITG proposal requests a second round of funding for the licensing of electronic versions of textbooks (“e-textbooks”) that are used in courses across three SUNY schools: SUNY Brockport, University at Buffalo (UB) and SUNY Delhi (“Phase 2”). Administered by libraries, this pilot project seizes the opportunity that the recent emergence of e-textbooks represents to serve SUNY students more efficiently both academically and financially.

The high cost of textbooks continues to deter a large percentage of students (up to 70%) from purchasing necessary course materials. Students participating in a fall 2012 UB Libraries pilot indicated overwhelmingly (88%) that cost is the most important consideration when purchasing an e-textbook. Without proper access to required resources, students are at an increased risk of performing poorly in their classes, or worse, dropping out.

Though similar to the previously funded IITG grant project, “The E-Textbook Opportunity: The Time is Now for SUNY” (“Phase 1”), there are benefits to continuing to fund a collaborative e-textbook pilot within SUNY. Our collective experience in administering Phase 1 was useful and foundational, but one semester of faculty and student use and attitudinal data is not sufficient in providing SUNY a clear roadmap. By funding Phase 2, SUNY will compound its initial investment by leveraging the knowledge and technical expertise gained by the participating campuses to shape the features, licenses and future of e-textbooks.

Project Goals

In Phase 1, the three participating campuses licensed e-textbooks for 443 students in six courses during the spring 2013 semester. As a result, we began to develop a framework and best practices for administering e-textbook into courses across SUNY, and collected data on students and faculty. For Phase 2, our goals are to leverage our Phase 1 experiences and further exploit our “systemness” by collecting more robust data on:

• student learning, success, and satisfaction,
• faculty satisfaction and pedagogy,
• our collective purchasing power,
• administrative infrastructure needs, and
• a sustainable business models for students, publishers and SUNY campuses.

We will accomplish this by:

• exploring new assessment methodologies to address salient questions surrounding learning outcomes. For example, we will target General Education (SUNY-GER) and high enrollment courses to participate in Phase 2 or serve as a control group, so that we can reliably investigate the effect of e-textbooks in comparison to print textbooks on student learning, success, and satisfaction;
• developing longitudinal data sets on e-textbooks. In the quickly evolving e-textbook environment, the market, business models and user preferences are changing rapidly. Phase 2 data will allow SUNY to pinpoint trends overall and among certain populations of students (i.e., tablet users, low engagement students, engineering students);
• identifying a correlation (or lack thereof) between decreasing costs and increasing student adoption of e-textbooks;
• investigating the administrative and economic feasibility of a student-based pilot. A student-based pilot provides students a large percentage of their course materials in electronic format.

In our course based pilot, we believe that we will be able to reach at least 250 students by identifying core courses offered across the three participating campuses. Target areas include:

• SUNY General Education Requirements (SUNY-GER) and commonly offered courses
• the increasing number of online courses offered by SUNY campuses
• specific programs offered by all three of the participating campuses, including nursing

The Potential of E-Textbooks: Student Learning and Faculty Teaching

In recent years, e-textbooks have become more than simply an online representation of a print book – they have the potential to transform and enhance learning experiences for students and teaching experiences for faculty. From our previous experience, we’ve learned LMS integration, accessibility and aggregated content are of paramount importance. Whereas, technological developments such as search functionality, annotation and highlighting features, interactive learning modules and social capabilities elicit indifference from students and faculty. In Phase 2, we plan to target the reasons (nascence, usability concerns, etc.) behind these feelings.

Sustainable infrastructure and business models

A primary objective of this project is to increase student access to innovative learning materials by reducing the burden of egregious textbook costs. In the Phase 1, we achieved an average savings of 61% off the list prices for new print textbooks and a total savings of $33,000 to participating students.

Informed by our experiences in Phase 1, we will investigate novel business models, economies of scale, internal infrastructure and processes with the goal of contributing to a SUNY-wide e-textbook strategy. We will examine the following business models and their feasibility for SUNY:

• negotiating discounted individual licenses on behalf of our students
• implementing course based fees
• implementing a universal flat rate e-textbook fee
• pay-per-use payment model
• leveraging bookstore partnerships to distribute content
• providing e-textbooks as part of financial aid packages
• the role of open educational resources


In closing, this project embodies many of values and ideas within The Power of SUNY:

• delivering high quality and innovative education to students
• broadening educational accessibility, especially among low and middle income students
• a commitment to expanding our global reach through Open SUNY and distance learning programs
• implementation of SUNY Shared Services and SUNY Campus Alliance Networks, created to expand educational opportunities for SUNY students while increasing operational and administrative efficiencies

We feel strongly that the confluence of several internal and external drivers positions SUNY to make a difference in students’ education through coordinated e-textbook adoption. We hope SUNY finds this project worthy of a Tier II ($20,000) grant. Thank you for your consideration.

Project Outcome:

Outcomes TBD