UW joins eText revolution

January 19, 2012

By Bruce Maas

We are in the midst of a highly disruptive digital transformation in higher education. Technology now makes quantities of data and information available in a day, which in past times has taken years. It is literally changing our world on a daily basis, and we must both honor our research stewardship role as well as our role as a societal engine of innovation and adaptability.

That is why our eText pilot is newsworthy. Six major research universities have decided that we need to change our approach to adaptability. Together with our partners from Internet2, Courseload, and McGraw Hill, we are embarking on a different, scalable approach to e-textbooks.

Our pilot includes about 600 students in five courses: Sociology 120: Marriage and Family (taught by Felix Elwert), Journalism 565: Effects-Mass Communication (Shawnika Hull), Engineering, Mechanics & Astronautics 202: Dynamics (Suzannah Sandrik), Philosophy 211: Elementary Logic (Michael Titelbaum), and Forum on the Environment 101 (Kevin McSweeney and Steve Ventura).

We are doing this because we must. Our students deserve our best efforts and they deserve our advocacy for their interests. The same is true for our faculty and instructional staff.

Change is never easy, and transformative change is the most difficult of all. John Kotter from Harvard has spent his entire career advancing the state of understanding of change, and change leadership, and we intend to follow the path that he has laid out on how to lead change successfully.

Follow along with us on this journey. It is not for the faint of heart. We will encounter challenges along the way, but I believe we are up to the challenge. This is only the beginning of digital revolution that is sweeping over higher education. I intend to be part of the foundation that supports this change, and I have partners on this journey. I encourage you to learn more, help guide us on this journey, and be part of the process that not only honors our traditions, but extends them and allows us respond to this amazing new opportunity in front of us.

Campus sponsors are Joanne Berg, Vice Provost for Enrollment Management; Aaron Brower, Vice Provost for Teaching and Learning; Ed Van Gemert, Interim Director of Libraries; Linda Jorn, DoIT Academic Technology Director; and me. It truly is a campus-wide collaboration.

Let me add that this effort is first and foremost about accessibility. Lowering the student cost of texts, to be sure. But fundamentally about making content accessible on a variety of platforms, for a variety of needs. Working with public and private sector partners gives us leverage to make materials accessible. Instead of waiting for what is delivered, and wringing our hands when it is inaccessible, we are shaping this landscape. We must be purposeful and deliberate about this. This pilot, and the many others to come, will give us that chance. Those who need our services to be accessible deserve no less than our full efforts on their behalf.

Contact me to give your input, and help us create a new way for higher education to shape our future.

--Bruce