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Moving to an e-book curriculum in allied health

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Commentary
David Heflin

​Tuition increases, rising book costs, high gas prices and other expenses are continually adding to the financial stresses of many of today’s community college students. In the case of radiography students at West Kentucky Community and Technical College (WKCTC), there is also the expense of driving to clinical sites several times a week during the semester.

Community colleges across the country face similar challenges in finding ways to keep some of those costs down. But how can faculty find cost savings within their program without reducing the quality of the program? One strategy is to test using an e-book curriculum, which is what WKCTC recently did.

Leading the way

Last fall, the radiography program at WKCTC embarked on an effort to reduce costs to students by moving to a complete e-book curriculum with its incoming radiography class. The secondary goals of this e-book pilot program were to streamline the purchase of books for the students, improve learning of radiography material, and increase overall student engagement. Upon wrapping up the first year of the pilot, it’s apparent that the program reached those initial goals—with excellent results.

First, the cost of books to the students has been cut nearly in half. Previously, students would have spent more than $1,000 on required books for the program, whereas the radiography e-book package is around $500.

Second, students can buy all of their books and materials for the 22-month long (five-semester) program with one purchase. This purchase occurs before the start of the radiography program in the fall through the campus bookstore or through the e-book publisher, instead of purchasing the needed books and material at the beginning of each semester. 

A new culture

Another interesting outcome of the e-book curriculum adoption is that students are engaging in a unique characteristic of our program’s e-books known as note sharing. The practice has created an inimitable way of learning radiography material. Note-sharing allows students to look at notes created by the faculty within the e-book and share information and notes. For example, instructors highlight portions of the book that is then electronically shared with students when they access their e-book. 

Students have also shown increased engagement among each other, as well as with instructors, through the use of e-books and the computer technology within the program.

These improvements did not happen overnight, nor did they involve years of research and development to get them to fall into place. They did, however, require work on the part of many members of the college—including college leaders, the program coordinator, faculty, staff, students, and other interested parties—over a course of several months, in order to ensure that the e-book initiative was steered toward the direction of success, with the least amount of headaches.

Tips for success

Below are our findings and some suggestions for transitioning to an e-book curriculum:

  • Research. To accomplish the task of moving to e-books the first step needed on the part of the program coordinator is research. Our experience suggests that finding a single publisher who can best meet all of the program’s overall needs is a crucial preliminary step in moving to an e-book-only delivery format. A consistent publisher allows for continuity in implementation and content. This may require changing a textbook, which was the case for our program, so there needs to be buy in from faculty to ensure smooth transition.
  • Buy-in. Get everyone to buy in upfront—especially the program faculty—and include them in the decision-making process. It may be time consuming, but it will pay dividends. Buy-in from the program faculty will be critical if the transition to e-books is to be a positive change.
  • Collaboration. This step may appear to be the easiest, but a good relationship with your e-book representative is critical for a smooth transition to e-books. Collaboration between your e-book representative, the college bookstore manager, program faculty, students, and the program coordinator is vital to help avoid unforeseen issues and confusion on the part of interested parties, namely students.
  • Implementation. This is where your previous steps (research, buy-in, and collaboration) will pay off. Being able to rely on others for advice and help, and to discuss—even bemoan—the changes need to happen in order to get the e-book transition off the ground and headed in the right direction.
  • Assessment. This stage involves the program coordinator beginning a dialogue with all the interested parties, checking with students and faculty throughout the semester to see if any problems have arisen, surveying students for feedback on the transitions, contacting the e-book publisher representative to see if any changes or new e-books are coming, and checking with the campus bookstore manager on any issues. Each of these assessments requires constant attention.
  • Communication. Communication should be on-going before, during and after the transition to e-books. It must be open and honest throughout the process and should always be in a positive tone. Issues and problems are going to happen, but with quality communication throughout the process, things will go much more smoothly.

Getting ahead of change

With a strong support network, WKCTC has been able to give its radiography students the opportunity to save money and learn in a new and exciting way (And save their backs; books for the program weighed more than 30 pounds).

The response from our students has been very positive. About 95 percent of our entering students already have laptops. As a result, most of our students are only out the expense of the radiography e-book package. Also, many of our students are already familiar with using e-books through similar programs in high school.

With radiography’s success, other programs in the college’s allied health and personal services division have started to move to an e-book curriculum. Our advice to them has been to be open to the change, prepare for the initial work and adjust to a new way of doing things. As all of us have learned in education, change is going to happen, and preparing and being ahead of change instead of having change run over you is a much easier process.

Heflin is an assistant professor and coordinator of the radiography program at West Kentucky Community and Technical College.

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