While digital technology has been embraced by entertainment, science, the arts and even finance, in the academic world, it has enjoyed a more restrained reception. “The whole idea of digital learning used to mean little more than a PDF version of an established textbook,” points out Nicole Guerrieri, Director of Digital Education for Barnes & Noble College. “But that’s changing now as digital is being seen as a completely different entity — transitioning to a completely different way of learning.” That transition, and recent insights about how students learn from newer technological platforms, spiked Emporia State University’s Professor of Literacy, Dr. Elizabeth Dobler’s interest, while watching her own four-year-old son navigate the web for the first time. “That experience led to really exploring online reading strategies, and how they’re both similar and different to how we learn in print,” she says.
Dr. Dobler’s interest in digital learning was shared by three of her faculty colleagues at Emporia State which, together with Barnes & Noble College’s Guerrieri and Emporia State’s Memorial Union Bookstore Manager Mike McRell, led to the idea of creating a forum to learn more. “In our early talks planning the conference, we soon realized that this needed to expand beyond just a discussion on e-textbooks,” McRell explains. “It developed into a broader discussion on everything that is going on in the digital world. It needed to include not only how students learn using digital content, but also how our education students — our future teachers — were going to utilize technology in their teaching methods.”
Dr. Dobler agrees. “We came to the conclusion that there was so much to know — accessibility, availability, price — on all of those issues, we thought it was the perfect time to get everyone together and learn more about the pros and cons of digital learning,” Dobler says.
The result was the university’s first Kansas Higher Ed E-Textbook Summit, organized in conjunction with Hornet Connected Learning, Kansas Association for Educational Communications & Technology and Barnes & Noble College. The participants in the event included faculty from Emporia State University and neighboring campuses, as well as students. The summit’s title was perhaps a misnomer as the conference covered more than just e-textbooks. “This conference was really about digital learning,” explained Guerrieri. “Universities face more and more challenges regarding student sucess, and this summit covered everything from changing technology to shifting student learning preferences to costs to time and resources, to how new digital learning platforms can help them achieve that goal.”
The summit covered how technology can help deliver digital content, open educational resources (OER), custom course materials and seamless course material adoption and purchasing experiences. “The Summit allowed for some really varied perspectives, growing from group conversations with a lot of differing opinions,” Dr. Dobler points out.
Participating in several sessions throughout the forum, Barnes & Noble College Research Consultant, Andrea Eveland, said the event highlighted many of the hurdles digital technology faces in the academic setting. “Faculty are already over scheduled, and it’s difficult to devote time to learning new initiatives, so they really need to be able to see clearly the measurable benefits of how it will help them perform their jobs, and how their students will benefit.”
As a researcher, the Summit also provided Eveland with a valuable perspective on students’ attitudes toward digital. “It really brought to life a lot of the research we’ve done at Barnes & Noble College focusing on Millennials and Generation Z, and how their expectations about learning are changing,” she says. An illustration of that is how well digital learning fits into Gen Z’s preference for collaborative learning. “I also think the current high school generation is going to bring with them very different perceptions about digital learning when they get to campus,” she says, acknowledging a generation familiar with a digitized world since birth.
Dr. Dobler agrees, yet points out the advantages of students having options. “The biggest thing I’ve learned from my own research is that students are individuals. We each learn in different ways and have different strengths and areas of growth in our learning. I really believe having the option of both print and digital resources lets students have more control, and therefore greater success, in how they learn,” she says.