VitalSource eTextbook Summit, 2013

Along with a few other colleagues, I went along to the VitalSource eTextbook Summit at the Charlotte Street Hotel on 19th March 2014.  This started a little better than the Seraph Science dinner that I went to, at the Haymarket Hotel, where an overly-enthusiastic member of staff opened a door with some force that stopped literally an inch away from the tip of my nose.  The jolly gentleman that he’d opened the door for seemed rather non-plussed that I’d nearly been wiped out.

In any case, the event opened with a talk by William Chesser who is Vice President of Vital Source Technologies.  They’re now celebrating their 20th anniversary, and what they do is offer cloud-based online access to textbooks plus native apps for full download, across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. Its users are allowed to download each book they have available on their account to up to four devices (which is generous, but sort of in line with the future of computing).

It was a big week for VitalSource of course: they’d literally just acquired CourseSmart, a huge operation that had been purchased by the VitalSource owners Ingram. CourseSmart and VitalSource did much the same job, and perhaps there was not enough room for two in this particular saloon.  Including CourseSmart, this new entity now have over 350 publisher partners, over 10M register users and over 2M faculty accounts. 

Interestingly enough, of their total staff of around 175, over 50 of these people are inhouse engineers.  This is a content delivery company but one that knows it has to absolutely deliver on the technical and analytic side of things.  I’ve recently had some involvement in a Cognos implementation at work and the metrics that Chesser went on to demonstrate were very impressive.  Minute-by-minute breakdowns of access, by platform and O/S, were available.

All told, the average student session on VS is 20 minutes – and in that time, they access around 20 pages.  There’s your coal-face of Western technology-led learning. Some other data regarding new students registering in 2013:

  • 38% use online cloud-based service only
  • 37% download to Windows or Mac PC/laptop
  • 13% only download to mobile/tablet
  • 12% download to Win/Mac AND mobile/tablet.

After the opening presentation, the very interesting summit then had more focussed sessions that looked at individual parts of the HE environment and how companies and technologies like VS were tackling issues and providing solutions.  The second presenter notably played a (contentious, in my view) YouTube video of the Generation now being tagged ‘Digital Natives’.  At the tail end of that Generation, like the tail end of Gen X was composed of 90s indie kids who laughed at the ZX Spectrums of the 80s, are people like this baby: a 1-year-old child who picks up a magazine and clearly thinks it’s just a broken iPad (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aXV-yaFmQNk).  The baby tries their stylus finger out on their thigh at one point, too – because something is clearly awry with this paper contraption.

Now that’s something to think about.

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