Walking the talk

Kathy Johnson

Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Academic Officer, IUPUI Professor, Department of Psychology, IUPUI

IU eTexts are more than just a digital copy of a textbook. Feature-rich and often much cheaper than a physical book, they give instructors a robust tool for teaching and lighten students' load both literally and figuratively.

Kathy Johnson recently taught with IU eTexts for the first time, in hopes of modeling best practices and gaining first-hand experience of what it was like to teach with some students in Zoom and others in person. During the pandemic, she thought it was especially important to experience what she (in her administrative capacity) had been asking faculty or students to do: Take advantage of IU eTexts.

"This was a very content-rich, kind of an encyclopedic course," Johnson said. "It was lifespan development and we joke it's literally womb to tomb in 13 weeks. Just to narrow down the scope of what students need to know, it was incredibly helpful to be able to make notes and mark up the eText. And I know my students really appreciated that."

But that wasn't all they appreciated—here are the high points of the conversation with Johnson, who has college-aged children and sees the advantages of eTexts from a parent's perspective as well.

Prefer video? Watch a short overview of what she had to say.

What led you to try eTexts? What were you hoping to achieve?

I knew that eTexts were going to be a huge benefit to students in terms of saving them money, and I know that both as a parent of college students as well as an administrator. It means all of our students can hopefully hit the ground running, and they're not still struggling to try to scrounge up additional dollars to purchase textbooks. And having the textbook available on the first day of class is huge.

Were you or any of your students familiar with eTexts? Did you have to learn how to use them?

Honestly, I think the learning curve is nonexistent for students. It seemed like that was a really seamless endeavor. For me, there were tremendously helpful resources available online. I jumped in to the Canvas site intended as a crash course in how to get an eText, how to make sure that it's connected with your class, and all of those sorts of things. Once I got things linked, it was really pretty easy to use.

Is there anything about this platform that surprised you or your students?

I was a little surprised by the different options for the particular book that I was using and their different price points. After talking with the IU eTexts team, I eventually decided not to bother with adaptive courseware at least for the first time. I wanted to keep things simple and just stick with the least expensive option for students (just the eText).

This was also a course that was really content heavy and less skills heavy. If I were teaching statistics, I probably would've loved all of those [adaptive courseware] bells and whistles that give students customized practice with problems tailored for their particular needs. But the nature of the class that I was teaching didn't seem to lend itself to that.

I certainly think that having awareness of those different options for interactivity, for customized homework or whatever the publisher provides, gives instructors a much broader range of options—which is helpful when there are lots of modalities through which a course is taught.

How have eTexts changed your teaching?

I really appreciated the analytics and being able to discern what my students were reading and who was not reading and having that information together with the other information in Canvas. I think that was really helpful for kind of diagnosing where different students were. And it was incredibly helpful to be able to make notes and mark up the text. I know my students really appreciated that.

What was your favorite thing about using eTexts?

I really loved the flexibility. I loved knowing that when my students were in class and I was asking them to talk with each other about a concept or an issue—something that they couldn't do without referring to their text—I didn't have to worry about whether someone didn't have their book in their backpack or that these are heavy books.

I have two children, one at IUPUI and one at IU Bloomington, now using eTexts. And so from the lens of being a parent and my usual worry about whether my kids are going to stay on top of things and do what they're supposed to be doing, it was super reassuring to know that they didn't have to worry about grabbing books. And the fact that it was all on one bill … it's all really easy to navigate.

What advice would you give other instructors who want to try IU eTexts?

Some students did express some concerns. It's hard if you don't have a tablet or a laptop, at least the textbook that I was using was hard to use on your phone. I also had at least one student who was concerned about getting headaches from reading a lot on screen. So it's really important to have that flexibility of knowing they could print the text if needed.

I would definitely start early, so you can order eTexts according to the correct deadline. I volunteered to teach a course fairly late in fall for spring, and the hardest thing for me was ordering eTexts long after the deadline. And of course that meant I needed to communicate with my students and let them know that I was using an eText and they could switch to a different section if they didn't want to use one.

I also think it is really, really important for students to get the maximum value out of eTexts. It's really important for the instructor to read ahead, to embed notes, to highlight. Toward the end of the semester, when my markup wasn't the usual four chapters ahead, I actually had to reassure some students that I would get there.

Are there particular resources you used and would recommend for learning more about eTexts?

The IU Knowledge Base and the Canvas course are pretty detailed. I confess I did pick up the phone a couple times when I didn't have time to go back through the course and just wanted to ask a quick question. But, from the standpoint of user experience, eTexts are just really simple and don't require a great deal of training. And they're great for students.

For a phone consultation at your convenience, schedule a time with IU eTexts Consultant Noma Maier:

And, as always, feel free to contact the IU eTexts team at etexthlp@iu.edu.