The Shift to Electronic Curriculum Materials due to the Pandemic. A Mathematics Case Study

By: Diana Petrowicz, Mon Feb 15 2021
Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

With digital curriculum materials a hot topic on campuses worldwide, we talked to an author, an editor, and a librarian to hear about how Springer Nature collections support the virtual teaching environment. Mathematics were in the spotlight, when Springer Nature’s editor for Mathematics eBooks Loretta Bartolini reflected on what she wished she had known about Springer Nature’s digital collections as an instructor, and the breadth and depth of mathematics textbooks available. Professor of Mathematics at San Francisco State University, Sheldon Axler, talked about the perennial appeal of his bestselling textbook “Linear Algebra Done Right”, selecting other titles from the catalog, and adapting his teaching during the pandemic. Executive Director for Collections Strategy & Discovery at Kennedy Library California Polytechnic State University, Tim Strawn, discussed trends in eBook acquisitions for curriculum support at California Polytechnic State University where he is the Executive Director of Collections Strategy & Discovery.

SN webinar page © Springer Nature

According to Loretta Bartolini, Textbook adoptions are typically decided by faculty members, alone or in a committee. When making a purchasing decision the following factors come into consideration

  • Content has to be in-line with the course
  • Expectations of other departments
  • Pedagogical best practice
  • Instructor preference
  • Print pricing

Loretta points out that in her experience the discussion around textbook purchasing never involved the library collection. She has noticed a disconnect where textbook acquisition is discussed in the department but they don’t necessarily think to talk to their librarian. So, why does it make sense to involve the librarian in these discussions? All but one of her former institutions had a subscription to the Springer Nature Mathematics and Statistics eBook collection. This means that these institutions had access to a vast trove of eBooks with the following benefits:

  • Unlimited concurrent users
  • DRM-free downloads
  • Print-on-demand service
  • Permanent access by institutional license

She points out that this is the best-case scenario for a student reader who needs access to a course textbook, especially for distance learning. She believes that if she had involved her librarian in textbook acquisition discussions it would have completely changed the way they selected textbooks and it would have made a lot of discussion a lot easier when it came to selecting textbooks.

The Mathematics and Statistics collection is one of 21 Springer Nature eBook collections containing over 14,000 books for various product types and features titles with an extremely long shelf-life.

Let’s look into how textbooks are used. Textbooks account for 45% of downloads even though they only make up 21% of the total Mathematics & Statistics collection. Our Mathematics textbooks cover all areas of pure and applied mathematics and levels range from undergraduate to PhD and postgraduate. Amongst our most well-known book series are for example “Undergraduate Texts in Mathematics” and “Graduate Texts in Mathematics”.

SN webinar page © Springer Nature
One of our mathematic’s books authors is Sheldon Axler. His book “Linear Algebra Done Right” has become widely successful and been adopted by 340 universities as a textbook. Sheldon has also produced a series of 50 videos that accompany the book and are available for free on his YouTube channel. Looking at the videos’ total minutes of viewing you can see an up rise in viewings, most likely caused by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, up by 59% year-on-year between February 2019 to February 2020 and the same period in the following year. “Clearly students are turning to videos a lot more,” says Sheldon.

According to Sheldon there are some serious issues about books, whether they should be print or electronic. Cost is playing an increasing role in faculty selection of textbooks. Sheldon never used to hear faculty mention a cost factor when it came to textbooks but now when he talks to faculty they often say that. “Electronic books tend to be a lower cost than print books, for example Chemistry has very expensive textbooks, a price of $200 is not unusual but you don’t see that in the electronic version,” explains Sheldon. He thinks that eBooks have many nice features that you don’t have in a print book such as for example links to chapters and outside sources. Another benefit of eBooks is portability, students can carry them around on portable devices.

SN webinar page © Springer Nature
The importance of the availability for textbooks, has been highlighted in particular during the pandemic. Tim Strawn, Executive Director for Collections Strategy & Discovery at Kennedy Library California Polytechnic State University, says that academic libraries should already have developed practices and workflows to accommodate structural materials, curriculum support as part and practice of providing 24/7 access to eBooks, databases, and many have been doing so.

He says that historically many academic libraries’ path was to not acquire course materials and textbooks other than housing extra copies of the course reserves, such as for example, print copies and he has not been able to find the reason behind it.

While other campuses in the CSU system go out of their way to purchase course materials as an essential service to their students, institutions vary widely still in their approach to both purchasing textbooks and either print or eBook format and supplying other instructional materials, like course reserves. Tim believes that many of these policies and past practices are under review. He says that at California Polytechnic State University, they did not need the pandemic to push them toward the provision of eTextbooks and course materials. He encouraged the campus to engage more fully in curricular support programs and ideas that could be centered or supported in the library.

11 years ago, when Tim started working at California Polytechnic State University, the institution dramatically shifted collecting strategies and priorities based on library usage data, campus surveys, both qualitative and quantitative data, that pointed them to transform practices to meet the needs of evolving information needs for curricular and research support.

“In short, we shifted from print to electronics swiftly,” says Tim.

To listen to the webinar recording below and download the presentations by Loretta Bartolini, Sheldon Axler and Tim Strawn.

Diana Petrowicz

Author: Diana Petrowicz

Diana Petrowicz is a Marketing Manager in the Sales Enablement team, based in the London office. Supporting the Sales and Account Development teams, she is enthusiastic about finding innovate ways to communicate with the library community and specialises in producing and writing case studies across the portfolio.