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UW-Madison beginning eText pilot program in spring

December 20, 2017 By Käri Knutson

Textbooks can be expensive and heavy to lug around. The University of Wisconsin–Madison is hoping to lighten the load by offering an eText pilot program starting this spring.

The pilot will utilize the Unizin Engage platform via an integration with Canvas, and aims to reduce the weight of textbook costs on students and to explore the potential for broader implementation of eTexts at UW–Madison.

“This is an exciting project for us. It’s a very student-centric project,” said Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning Steven Cramer at a recent EI Brown Bag presentation about the pilot.

An example of the Unizin Engage etext interface, where a student annotates the text. Photo courtesy of Unizin

The pilot will likely continue into additional academic years, co-sponsored by Associated Students of Madison (ASM), the Office of the Provost, the Office of the Registrar and DoIT Academic Technology (AT), the Educational Innovation (EI) Initiative.

The estimated student enrollment at UW–Madison is 44,000, with each student spending approximately $1,200 per year on books and course materials, Cramer says. That adds up to $52 million a year.

In switching to eTexts, savings are typically between 40 to 80 percent per textbook.

“If we can save even a little bit, it can add up to quite a large amount of money,” Cramer said.

The expense of textbooks can mean that fewer students have the materials needed to begin the course. After talking to instructors, Cramer says that many have found that in a class of 100, only a third may have bought the book. Fewer yet have the book the first week of two of classes which means they’re missing out on information covered at the beginning of the semester.

“I think many students are choosing not to purchase materials until their backs are against the wall and they have to purchase,” Cramer said, pointing out that many may choose to borrow from a friend.

For the spring pilot, approximately 3,000 students in 16 courses are participating across five schools and colleges.

Students will have access to eTexts via the Unizin Engage platform for their entire time as a student at UW–Madison.

Instructors are responsible for choosing eTexts (and associated homework, lab or simulation software packages, if applicable) with the cost added on to a student’s tuition bill. Financial aid applies and students will have the ability to opt out 45 days in advance of the course start date.

Students who seek accessibility accommodations should contact the McBurney Disability Resource Center.

eTexts have been popular at other colleges that have begun using them. Indiana University has been using them for about five years with the opt out rate less than one percent.

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