While predicted for over a decade, the death of the college textbook industry really began in 2016. It was the year that three major publishers reported multi-million dollar losses as their market share decreased from 46 percent to 33 percent. One of the most important reasons for this rapid decline is that students are finding it increasingly difficult to justify and satisfy the financial demands of higher education. Against the backdrop of rising tuition costs, many students are starting to consider textbooks a luxury, rather than a necessity.

Despite this well-cataloged decline, new data from CampusBooks, the leading textbook price comparison website that tracks over eight million college textbooks, suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may be giving the industry a temporary reprieve. Prices and new textbook purchases are increasing while rentals and used book sales are declining.

Yet despite the short-term rise in sales that print textbook publishers are currently experiencing, the reality is that the underlying trend in higher ed content has been toward digital. To stay relevant in an era of blended and online learning, courseware needs to be interactive. This enhances learning by blending multimedia content and in-class assessment and accountability with more traditional textbook chapters. Most importantly, it also provides learners with dynamic, immersive material and the ability to engage and collaborate with their peers. Here’s why digital textbooks are sure to be engrained in the future of higher ed, despite recent trends.

The necessity of customizable content

Today’s students are accustomed to seeing news reports and information feeds updating in real-time. However, static print materials cannot keep up with this rapid pace of change. In order to be truly effective, courseware needs to be easily customizable, so current events and other changes can be incorporated into the course curriculum. This gives students an outlet to process current events with their peers in an environment that allows for discussion and the exchange of ideas, as they are occurring.

Print textbooks lack the engagement and collaboration opportunities that are necessary for engaging students in active learning experiences. Interactive digital course materials give students the chance to apply their learnings to the world outside their classroom by allowing for textbook customizability. Keeping content relevant gives students the opportunity to tackle complex course concepts together with their classmates in an active way.

Increasing accountability and motivation

Interactive textbooks ensure that learning extends beyond the classroom. In distance learning environments, students often lack motivation and accountability. When students are assigned chapters of a print textbook or a PDF, instructors have no way of knowing if pre-class readings are being completed—or if students are grasping curriculum objectives. Digital textbooks provide opportunities for students to engage with course material and allow instructors to monitor student progress.

“Students can have high expectations and feel engaged throughout the term when using a customized interactive digital textbook,” said Dawn Bikowski and J. Elliott Casal, authors of Interactive Digital Textbooks and Engagement: A Learning Strategies Framework. “Students reported the greatest levels of engagement in the digital textbook encouraging them to complete assigned readings and to participate in class.”

If an interactive digital textbook is part of an online learning platform, students are also more likely to engage with interactive digital materials. Professors can track engagement, obtain regular insights into how students are interacting with and comprehending the material and understand where students are struggling and tailor lectures accordingly.

From the results of student discussions and surveys, Dan Maxwell, Lecturer, Criminal Justice Department, at Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences, University of New Haven realized students were struggling with a disjointed learning experience: the material he taught in class didn’t easily match up with the content in the course textbook, which provided little value to students but at a high cost. “Textbooks are too expensive,” Maxwell says of the $200 tomes he previously assigned. “Students will do anything to get out of buying them and if they do buy them they won’t use 95 percent of the book.” He needed to ensure he had the right materials in place to augment his personal, qualitative approach to instruction. Maxwell decided to author a textbook with Top Hat for his Criminal Justice course. He wanted to create more relevant content with built-in assessments to make reading assignments before and after class more engaging, insights into which could be leveraged for discussions during class time.

The coming fall semester begins the most unprecedented era in the higher education space. With nearly all students learning through online and blended models, print textbooks are sure to be another COVID-19 casualty. Click here to learn more about how Top Hat can help instructors design learning activities to effectively engage students this fall, wherever learning takes place.

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