I attended a presentation this morning from an ‘action learning’ group that was tasked with considering replacing print study guides with electronic study guides. CQUniversity is a distance education provider and often courses will develop study guides that supplements textbooks. Historically, these study guides have been printed, bound and posted to students.
The presentation took the form of a debate with the affirmative team arguing replacing print study guides with online study guides while the negative promoted the advantages of print. They both had valid arguments relating to their team’s side on the debate such as:
|For online materials||Against online materials|
|Online materials are a natural evolution from print.||A majority of students still want print materials.|
|Cost effective distribution.||Socio-economic reasons based on CQUniversity’s student demographic.|
|Easy to update and publish changes.||Myriad of devices requiring the institution to provide a myriad of formats.|
|Other universities are doing it|
The presentation in the form of a debate was great as was the quality of information that their research has uncovered. Now that I have had time to reflect on the presentation there are dimensions to the argument that are, in my opinion, very important. These are:
- Change management.
- The fact that ‘other universities are doing it’ is being used as an argument for us to do it.
Change management. One of the IT management team asked the research group about change management and this got me thinking. It will not be the university or even all the universities driving the change but the market in a similar way to what we are seeing with books and eBooks. It is where the consumers are spending their money that dictates what the publishers do next. I think that we are in a transition period between print and online study materials and we have to cater for both the online and print camps at least in the short term. Its not going to be a process that we can drive which means our systems and processes around the production of study materials need to be agile and resilient rather than static and robust.
We have probably made a reasonable start at this by using changing the print materials process so that it can delivery online eStudyguides but there is a way to go if we are going to cater to mobile devices in the future. The suggestion I would like to air is that we deal with the multitude of print formats (eg iPad, iPhone, Kindle, ePub etc) in the same way as we treat online video files. We produce a ‘master’ format. This format is easily trans-coded into other formats, even on the fly. I’m not sure of the technical limitations of what I’ve suggested but it may be worthwhile investigating this further.
The other argument was that ‘we must do it because everyone else is’ is. To me, this seems a bit silly as it disregards the context. As an example, let us say the university decides to discontinue print study materials and move everything online. The presentation this morning stated that 83% of Queenslanders (I think it was Queensland) have Internet access, and of these, 90% are on Broadband. CQUniversity has an excellent record with regard to attracting students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. This could mean that our student cohort does not necessarily align with the 83% Internet/90% broadband demographic and this could result in significant student dissatisfaction if print materials are discontinued. Having said all of this I personally would not mind at all if print materials disappeared today.