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Publishers Struggle to Get Professors to Use Latest E-Textbook Features

Publishers studying the effectiveness of their latest interactive e-textbooks are finding that the biggest challenge is getting professors to use the new features of the digital texts.

“On the instructor side, that’s where the inertia is,” says Jay Chakrapani, McGraw-Hill’s digital general manager for higher education. “That’s the biggest challenge that we’re all facing.”

Another publisher, John Wiley and Sons, commissioned a study in 2009 of the use of its WileyPLUS online learning tools by the University of Tennessee’s Institute for Assessment and Evaluation of nearly 500 students at 11 two-year and four-year colleges.

Instructors selected for participation all had at least two years of experience with the program, says Petra Steriti, Wiley’s manager for market research, but instructor use varied widely. “Not all instructors make students fully aware of what’s available,” she says.

Wiley plans to offer more tutorials to give professors a better understanding of the capabilities of the system, which can be used to quiz students on reading material and provide instant feedback.

Students who used the Wiley software had final scores that were seven percent higher than those of comparable students who didn’t use the software, the study found.

Students who started with the least subject knowledge and students at two-year colleges saw the greatest improvement when using the program.

Ms. Steriti says that WileyPLUS helps by giving students with more-basic learning skills additional practice material beyond the textbook that they would be less likely to seek out on their own. “It provides a roadmap for learning,” she says.

Albert N. Greco, a professor at Fordham University’s Graduate School of Business who studies the academic publishing industry, says Wiley’s findings are positive for the publisher, but he says they raise questions about the ability of WileyPLUS to help the strongest students.

“There’s probably going to be a need for more revisions,” he says. “It may not be helping as many students as they want to.”

At McGraw-Hill, Mr. Chakrapani says its online learning platform, Connect, is adaptive, which means that it can be customized for students at different levels and helps students determine what they do and do not know about a particular topic.

Case studies commissioned by McGraw-Hill showed improvement among students using Connect and showed that student performance improved the more students used the program.

Pearson Education-commissioned studies for its MyLab and Mastering programs also showed student improvement.

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