By: Joseph Cacciotti

Algonquin College is the first post-secondary institute in the country to adopt a new e-textbook platform. This tool provides access to course material from over 22 000 textbooks from anywhere with an internet connection.

There are currently 783 students with access to this system across six programs in the College. Textbooks are currently available online free of charge, as even publishers are curious to see where the future of e-learning will lead. This tool is being implemented through blackboard, beginning with the publishers, through the chosen platform, and accessible through the blackboard student portal.

“We are the first College Institute in Canada to implement a (e-) book pilot project”, said Larry Weatherdon, project manager of the e-textbook platform.

Current access to the service relies on internet access. This means not all content is available unless saved to cache memory beforehand. This is not a concern for most students. Kaitlin Watters, a first year Public Relations student, said, “Unless my textbook is very interesting, I’m not going to read it on the bus. It’s not realistic to do homework on the bus.”

Dave Wilson, a student of Business Management and Entrepreneurship said, “If you have offline access and have the material available to study from it makes it easier for the active student on the go, as internet connections are not always available.”

Though the limits of saving content in memory cache can cause delays in other activities on personal computers, the fact that the content is available in a secure and legal fashion ensures the future success of the platform in a world where electronic theft has become common.

The e-textbook initiative is a very sophisticated system, allowing students to more easily access information, highlight facts, and prepare for exams. If content is copied and pasted from the e-textbook it is automatically cited.

All of this makes accessing and making use of these materials faster for students, and the goal of the project is to ensure that Algonquin has the most efficient, effective, and accessible system possible. “Accessing information, highlighting, preparing for exams; all of it is faster”, said Weatherdon.

In studying results from similar projects in the United States the e-textbook team is working hard to ensure that the problems users face in similar systems are omitted, allowing Algonquin to have the best content delivery system available to an post-secondary institute. The current platform consists of both CourseSmart, and Vitalsmart both of which are e-book content delivery systems.

“I am not surprised by the frustration felt in the U.S. with four separate platforms”, said Weatherdon, “we are working to ensure accessibility through one reliable platform.”

Algonquin’s Blackboard client will be the tool used to access the e-textbook pilot project, and is available for IOS(I-phone), android, and all tablets and smartphones except for Blackberry. “Blackboard mobile has been getting excellent feedback”, said Paul Schieman, Blackboard Administrator.

David Coignan, a leading Blackboard technician agrees with the opinions of many professors, “Making textbooks and course material available online can only be good for students. As a plugin to blackboard the e-textbook program will implement seamlessly into the system.”

Paperbacks have been made available of the course textbooks for 40% of retail price. Surprisingly students have not yet taken the opportunity to purchase these discounted materials.

“I feel like that has a lot to do with cost. If they have to spend money on a textbook they would rather get it online”, said Watters.

These materials will continue to be available through the College as the platform develops. The fact that the paperbacks have remained untouched indicates a change in the way information is processed in a modern learning environment.

Books have been around for thousands of years, and will always be a part of modern life; however reading books online through e-readers, smartphones, and tablets is becoming more and more mainstream.