Students save time and money with etextbooks Algonquin College, Ontario, Canada

Students save time and money with etextbooks


Visionary college moves toward 100% etextbook usage to improve access and affordability

Algonquin College, a public institution of higher learning, launched an etextbook pilot program in January 2013. The college believed that by using etextbooks, it would overcome some of the shortcomings of printed textbooks, which are heavy, not accessible to students with visual disabilities, and expensive. The pilot showed promising results, so Algonquin decided to slowly expand the program in a five-phase approach from the fall of 2013 to the fall of 2015.

During the first phase of the initiative, Algonquin worked closely with its publisher partners, including Pearson, to implement an institutional pay model whereby etextbook costs are included in students’ course-level, nontuition-related ancillary fees. This model gives all students registered for a course access to the materials, increasing the number of students using them and allowing publishers to discount the etextbook price. Since 2013, the use of this model has expanded to about thirty of Algonquin’s publisher partners.

Algonquin has experienced some stakeholder resistance to its move toward 100 percent etextbook usage. Students were initially concerned about not having access to printed resources and not being able to keep their textbooks for future reference. To address these concerns, Algonquin negotiated into its institutional pay model the capability for students to print the etextbooks and retain access to the digital materials permanently. In addition, students’ informational-technology fee allows them to print up to one thousand pages at a campus print center for no charge.

In reality, few students have taken advantage of the print option. Larry Weatherdon, manager of digital resources, reported, “We’ve been tracking students that use our print center to print the book and the page counts that they are allowed. Right now, that number is less than five percent. But the fact that it is offered has a bigger effect than the number of people who actually take advantage of the offer.”

The change from print to digital has been challenging for some faculty members, but Algonquin has addressed this proactively. The college provides professional development courses to educate faculty about best practices for integrating digital materials into their courses. It has also created online resources to address the most common concerns, and it is considering providing online training modules so faculty members can fit professional development into their schedules more easily.

After two years, the number of etextbooks used has increased from 2,300 in the winter of 2013 to 32,000 in the fall of 2014. Approximately 50 percent of Algonquin’s programs are using etextbooks, reaching 10,000 students.

The initiative has also decreased student textbook costs by 40 percent. Weatherdon explained, “Last fall, our project made 2.5 million in etextbook purchases on behalf of the college. That represented almost a million dollars of savings to students if they had bought traditional textbooks.” Algonquin has set a target of saving 50 percent in costs in the future.

Student Usage of and Savings from etextbooks, Fall 2014


Algonquin is collecting data to measure the impact of etextbooks on student outcomes like grades and withdrawal rates, but it is too soon to measure the impact of this program. Students feel, though, that the digital delivery system has helped them. Mackenzie Campbell, a third-year student studying business administration material and operations management, commented, “The etextbook search function speeds up my studying process, so that I can spend less time searching and more time actually learning the material.”

When asked what has enabled Algonquin to make the etextbook program succeed in spite of the obstacles it encountered, Weatherdon replied, “The direction has to come from the administration. Regardless of the problems or the challenges, our mandate is to make it work and find solutions.”

To learn more about Algonquin’s implementation, read the full success story.