The Indiana University eText Experience: Recipe for Success

8 eText Operations: The IU Experience

John Gosney, Director of Faculty Engagement and Outreach, Learning Technologies, UITS, Indiana University
Mark Goodner, Principal Business Analyst and Faculty Consultant, IU eTexts, UITS, Indiana University

 

This section outlines the day-to-day nitty-gritty of IU’s eText program. A large part of the success of the IU program depended upon the hard-won experience that enabled the development of the process described below.

 

Preparing for an “eText Order Window”

There should be established dates, an “ordering window,” for when faculty and administrators—and often “course coordinators”, discussed in more detail later in this chapter—can place eText orders for the forthcoming term. Depending on the institution’s academic calendar, there will likely be two ordering windows: one that opens in early spring for the upcoming summer and fall terms; another that opens in early fall for the upcoming winter and spring terms.

 

To ensure a successful opening of an order window:

  • Reach out to publishers for updated metadata to update the eText Catalog. Accurate metadata that reflects all of a publisher’s catalog offerings is essential.
    • Depending on the type of data file used by the publisher, some analysis may be required; search fields used with the institution’s online catalog/ordering tool (for example ISBN, author last name, subject) must match corresponding fields in the metadata file.
    • Moreover, the type of data file itself (e.g., ONYX) may not be compatible with either the institution’s catalog or specific publisher data feeds, so a process for exporting the data file to a common format may also be required. Even though ONXY is standard, some publishers use different facets of ONYX in different ways; for example, the eISBN in one publisher file might not be the same as that for another publisher.
    • When beginning work with a publisher, first ask for a sample file and analyze that file to confirm it contains all necessary information. Ultimately, the more this entire metadata/file transfer process can be automated, the less likely the process is to introduce errors and the more likely it will be efficient.
  • Define both “soft” and “hard” closing dates for order window. There should be clearly defined opening and closing dates for eText ordering, that is specific ordering windows for each semester. Ultimately, these dates will depend on when the final, official schedule of classes for the upcoming term is posted and when students are first able to register for classes. Ideally, the order window should open several weeks in advance of when students can first register, so faculty have time to browse the catalog of available titles. This also ensures that students know, at the time of registration, whether a course will use an eText. This is critical because they will be charged a course fee. A side benefit of meeting the “Soft” closing date is disability services offices and alternate media staff now have access to the textbook information as soon as one of their students registers for a course that adopted an IU eText.
    • “Soft” closing date: this is the day before students are first able to register for courses. In other words, this would be the last opportunity to add an eText to a course before the course is available for student registration. Additional issues to keep in mind when considering the “soft” closing date:
      • Depending on a specific institution’s policy, any request to add an eText to a course after this “soft” closing date might be denied—but, if there is still adequate time before “hard” closing date (see below), an eText might be added.
      • However, since students may have already registered for the course, it should be the responsibility of the faculty member or other departmental staff to notify students who have already registered that the course will now utilize an eText.
    • “Hard” closing date: this is the last day an institution can add an eText to a course for the upcoming term, allowing sufficient time to load the eText so it is available to students on the first day of class. There will likely be situations in which a request to add an eText will be granted after the hard closing date:
  • A department might add an additional section of a course to meet unexpected late enrollment demands.
  • The first time going through an ordering window with a new publisher can sometimes lead to unintentional delays as all parties become familiar with the process.

Regardless of the situation, facilitating these last-minute order requests can be a balancing act between trying to meet everyone’s requests and facing the reality that some dates, for example first day of classes, cannot be changed. To that end, there will likely be situations where late requests cannot be granted. However, rather than simply saying “No,” a better response might be “Not this time, but let’s work together to understand your needs so we don’t have problems next semester.”

 

  • Communicate with faculty: broad communication about ordering window opening/closing dates is essential. However, the following additional communications are also suggested. Much of this information could be placed within a single web page, so general communication about ordering windows could link to this page:
    • General description of institution’s eText initiative
    • Benefits of teaching with eTexts
    • Accessibility of the IU eText platform and eText accommodation procedures
    • General eTexts “best practices,” and how faculty can most effectively utilize them within their courses
    • Listing of all participating publishers
    • Understanding difference between a traditional eText and other “digital learning tools” like adaptive learning tools, online homework, and problem sets
    • Listing of eTexts “Course Coordinators”
    • Ordering instructions
    • How to make requests for late orders
    • Tips for preparing an eText once it is loaded into the learning management system course site
    • Integrating a “digital learning tool” within the learning management system course site
    • General “troubleshooting” tips

 

 

The Importance of the “Course Coordinator” Role for Placing eText Orders 

The “Course Coordinator” (CC) role can be extraordinarily helpful in facilitating the eTexts ordering process. The CC might be department or school administrative staff, or a faculty member who is responsible for coordinating a course with multiple sections. In short, the CC is the individual who has, historically, coordinated textbook orders for the coming term, and perhaps served as a “single point of order contact” for a school or department. They are the person who would traditionally place textbook orders received from faculty.

Asking this individual to be the eTexts CC is important, as they are already familiar with the textbook ordering process, including how to “corral” orders. If the department or school has a large number of adjunct faculty, the CC can also reach out to this group of faculty who are often not on campus and therefore difficult to reach.  In addition, some departments and schools have rules for tracking materials that must be used for a specific course, so the CC can coordinate these orders. Having a single point of contact who is familiar with the unique characteristics of the department or school can be very helpful for answering last-minute questions and communicating news and other updates about the institution’s eText initiative.

 

Making eTexts/DLT’s Available within the Learning Management System (LMS) Course Site

As the beginning of the semester approaches, it is important to ensure the ordered eText or digital learning tool (DLT) is available within the LMS course site. While the following process will vary depending on each institution, the steps described below should generally apply to any number of eTexts initiatives:

  • Once the soft order window closes, publishers will be sent an extract of what has been ordered, as well as subsequent weekly extracts for orders placed afterward.
  • The publishers will then begin preparing the requested materials. Some publishers may wait and prepare everything at once. Others may provide materials as requests are received. The publisher can notify the eTexts business analyst/operations manager to let them know when materials are ready, and the eTexts business analysis/operations manager can then notify the respective faculty.
  • A target of 30 days before the start of term should be set as the time as when all eTexts/DLTs should be available to faculty within their LMS course site. The publishers will address whatever special configurations are necessary for DLTs. Once these configurations are complete, the publisher can contact the faculty directly.
  • Any type of customized process—for example where a course structure for a DLT is copied from one semester to another—should be closely monitored by both the publisher and the eTexts business analyst/operations manager to ensure materials are properly configured for the current semester.

 

Process for Students Who Wish to “Opt Out” of Using an eText

A key underlying philosophy of any eText initiative should be saving students money, but student success is of equal importance. Therefore, an institution’s “opt-out” policy should reflect this student success component, by encouraging students, before they opt-out, to think about what they might be missing. For example, see IU’s opt-out policy at: https://kb.iu.edu/d/alex and https://etexts.iu.edu/about/policies.html

The following is a suggested list of points to share with students regarding the potential impact/consequences of opting out of using an eText:

  • You will lose access to all the features and benefits of the eTexts initiative.
  • You will lose access to additional items your instructor might add to the eText, such as links to other content; additional supplemental resources; and highlights, annotations, and study tips to guide your engagement and learning in the course.
  • You will lose the opportunity to engage, interact, and collaborate with your classmates and instructor within the eText itself.
  • When faculty choose an eText for their course, they are assured all students will have access to the same edition of the text on or before the first day of class. By opting out, you risk falling behind in the course if you have not acquired alternate versions of the same materials prior to the first day of the class.
  • The eText reader software allows your instructor to track your engagement — any highlights, annotations, and notes you’ve made—within the eText. Many faculty refer to these engagement logs as a measure of participation or learning that helps identify students who may be struggling in the course. You could thus limit your instructor’s ability to provide you with this additional assistance.
  • You would be responsible for legally obtaining alternate versions of all required course materials. Because eTexts and all instructor and classmate interaction that occurs within them are specific to your campus, other “eTexts” you might obtain elsewhere will not include the interactions and/or additional learning materials placed within the IU eText by your instructor.
  • In classes using multiple eText titles, you cannot opt out of a specific title. Instead, you opt out of every title in the class.
  • Faculty are not responsible for providing you with alternative materials or waiving course requirements. Be sure you understand participation requirements for the course.
  • Your opt-out request is not reversible once it is submitted.

 

Other things to consider when developing an opt-out policy:

  • Federal regulations on opting-out (i.e., that students have the choice to opt out of the eText purchase) only apply to those students receiving federal aid. However, given that such a large percentage of students receive some type of federal student loan, developing a more comprehensive opt-out policy may be necessary, depending on state-specific regulations.
  • An opt-out policy for students can also help faculty better understand the implications to the student when they choose to opt out.
  • Given the potential complexities of opt-out requests—in our experience, no two requests are likely to be the same—the process for students to opt out should not be completely automated. Instead, each request to opt out should be individually reviewed to consider possible exceptions—and to address students who appeal a decision not to allow them to opt out, if for example they have already accessed an eText but want to opt out of paying for it.

 

Billing and Payment to Publishers

Depending on the specific institution, much of the billing and payment to publishers will likely be an automated process. However, as a general process:

  • Once the refund deadline has passed for the active term (that is, once it is no longer possible for students to be refunded any amount for enrolling in a course or utilizing materials billed to their bursar account), an enrollment report is sent to each publisher, so they know the number of students utilizing each of their specific ordered titles.
  • Next, requisitions are created for each publisher.

Note: depending on the number of students utilizing eTexts, these requisitions can easily exceed a million dollars. Depending on the policies of the specific institution, requisitions at this level may require multiple approvals before a purchase order (PO) is generated.

  • Once requisitions are approved, the institution’s purchasing department generates a PO, which in turn is sent to each publisher.
  • Finally, publishers generate an invoice for that PO, which the institution utilizes to pay each publisher.

 

While there are several steps to successfully operationalizing an eText program, it’s important this process not be perceived as complex by faculty, students, and course coordinators. How can you ensure the process is perceived as smooth and straightforward at your institution? As with everything that contributes to a successful eText program, clear and timely communication of related process dates is essential (e.g., opening/closing dates of “eText order windows,” last date on which a student can opt-out of a course eText requirement, etc). Moreover, associated components of the process—from the availability of the eText catalog (i.e., the “eText order window”) to the availability of eTexts and digital learning tools within the learning management system—must be as accessible, clear, and user friendly as possible. Ultimately, dedicated support staff who are knowledgeable about the back-office technical and business operation elements of the process are the keystone of a successful, ongoing eText program.

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eText Operations: The IU Experience by The Trustees of Indiana University is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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