A presentation which sparked a lot of discussion at this year’s UKSG was ‘ The Student Information Relationship’ presented by Joshua Harding. Josh is a second year postgraduate student at Warwick University studying medicine. Prior to this Josh studied Physiology at the University of Newcastle.
What struck me about Josh’s presentation was how much student experience and expectations have changed in such a short amount of time. To illustrate this Josh showed a photograph of the output of his studies at Newcastle which was a pile of 11 hefty print text books and an equally tall pile of A4 ring binders full of printed, handwritten or annotated notes. Josh said that this pile of analogue items had all the answers he needed to successfully complete his course, but that they were just too big and heavy to carry around and they weren’t easily searchable.
Josh’s solution to this problem was to switch to digital – he bought an iPad . Three years on Josh considers himself to be a completely paperless student, he even goes as far as to say that everything he needs to study medicine is on his iPad and that the only supplementary source of information he needs is the internet. Josh gets slides from lectures on his ipad, has a textbook library on his iPad and organises his notes into notebooks on his ipad. What I did find interesting was that Josh still makes notes in an analogue way – he uses an app (Notability) to handwrite his notes directly onto his ipad as he thinks this a better way to learn than typing – an interesting mix of digital and analogue.
The benefits of having all his content digitally on one device are that Josh can easily and quickly search across all of his content and resources, he can seamlessly switch between note taking, resource apps and electronic text books all of which improves his efficiency, reducing stress and increasing satisfaction. As Josh states tablet computing provides students with a powerful personalised education tool and he predicts that in as little as 18 months tablets will be adopted as the norm for students. Josh expects that as a minimum students will demand access to their most used resources digitally and that will want enhanced education resources.
Josh who is currently on an orthopaedics and anaesthetics clinical rotation in a hospital continues to make full use of his iPad. He uses the calendar as a diary, the Notability app to take patient history, he uses his iPad to enable him to answer questions with confidence, he is able to refresh his memory on procedures he hasn’t seen or done in a while which ultimately enables him to perform with confidence. When Josh comes across drugs he isn’t familiar with he uses apps like the British National Formulary app (BNF) to find them providing him with instant information.
A good example Josh used to demonstrate his use of apps was that he had been asked to scrub in on a radical neck dissection, he hadn’t studied head and neck anatomy for a while, but was able to use resource apps on his iPad, in this case Pocket Body, to immediately recap this bringing the information to the forefront of his mind and providing anchor points for new knowledge.
Back at university Josh uses his iPad to download lecture slides before his lectures and he then exports them into notability where he is able to annotate the lectures and record the speaker. During the lecture he is able to consult resources like electronic text books, resource apps, old notes and the internet which allows him to produce a near complete set of notes as he goes along, unlike other students without tablets who after the lecture often have to fill in gaps in their notes from analogue sources.
Josh then goes on to talk about interactive, multimedia eBooks from Inkling which allow the purchase of individual chapters. He described these ebooks as the future of the text book and believes we are reaching the end of the paper text book, although he does concede that the nails aren’t quite in the coffin of the print text book just yet.
So if using a tablet is so beneficial to the student why aren’t all students digital students? Josh argues that this is for two reasons; awareness and costs. Josh hinted that the role of the Librarian should be changing and that we should consider using student advisors who are familiar with the new ways of learning and how they link together to demonstrate the full capabilities of tablet devices to new students. In relation to costs aside from the obvious upfront cost of the tablet the costs of eBooks and subscriptions to educational apps all of which have to be paid by the student are high. There is also the problem of fragmentation, there are multiple eBook formats often these restrict use, multiple eBook Platforms, multiple third party DRM apps all of which add to the costs and frustrations of the end user.
In his ideal world, and Josh admits himself that this is probably a pipedream, the interactive textbook would be as standard in a single DRM free format on a universal platform which can be viewed on any device and can be loanable, like a print textbook can be from a library and that there would be institutional subscriptions to important apps. He also suggests that interactive textbooks of the future should include analytics so that they can study the student as they study informing them of their progress adapting content to the user – in effect becoming a personal study buddy.
I personally don’t think this should be a pipedream, but I do agree with Josh when he says that because publishers and libraries have to plan so far in advance basing decisions on evidence, they are not currently able to deal with the rapidly changing demands of the digital student. A prime example of this was in the Q&A session at the end when Josh described a student who had a print copy of a text book but who had broken the spine and manually scanned each page to create a digital copy of it which they could use restriction free on their tablet – if the textbook had been available in a DRM free format and at a cheaper price or if individual chapters had been available to purchase, or if the textbook was loanable or even rentable in a suitable electronic format then Josh suggested that students would happily pay for them rather than taking these seemingly extreme measures.
Josh’s use of his iPad is impressive, others at the conference later described Josh as a ‘super user’, so I should say that the impression I got from delegates from the University Libraries was that Josh’s use of his tablet isn’t typical…….. yet. With more and more schools introducing tablet computers the demand for accessible digital resources from students is only going to grow. Libraries and publishers need to take note of Josh and really think about the way users will want to access and interact with their content. The big question Josh posed to the audience was ‘are you ready to meet this inevitable demand?’ I’m not convinced librarians or publishers are quite there yet.