In case you missed it, here’s a recap of what was discussed at our recent focus group, which included a group of University of Sussex students.
First, we discussed the decision-making process and experience of buying textbooks. Above all, students were put off buying a textbook if they only required a small section of the book for their course. In this case, students chose instead to borrow it from the library, to save money. In addition, some were put off by the newest editions of textbooks because they are more expensive, and were more likely to buy an older edition, if available.
Decisions whether to buy a textbook were heavily influenced by the reviews of the book and were unlikely to buy it if it received poor reviews on Amazon. Students mainly buy textbooks from Amazon rather than a physical bookshop because they are usually cheaper.
The main benefit of buying physical textbooks (rather than borrowing them from the library) was seen to be that one can annotate and highlight the book.
Students usually buy textbooks online (usually from Amazon), but will browse the physical book in a bookshop first to see if it’s worth buying and then order online. In addition to Amazon, students usually buy textbooks second hand from other students. In conclusion, price is usually the main factor in deciding where to purchase textbooks.
If textbooks weren’t bought at all, students accessed them through online reading list links to library copies, photocopies/pdfs found online, borrow the book from other students, Google Books, bought older editions instead, or simply don’t access it at all.
Students tended to find out about their course books on the online reading list. The last book one particular student bought was a dictionary of human geography (for dissertation topic), because it’s a book that will still be useful to them after degree.
All in all, print books were favoured by students, as they want to feel the physical book and make notes.
Layout and Features of Textbooks
Next, the layout and features of textbooks were discussed. Students agreed they don’t want unnecessary jargon. They wanted smaller reference sections to be given at the end of each chapter, rather than one big reference section at the end of the book. In addition, they wanted more pictures and figures, and fewer reams of text.
Additional Learning Resources
Other than books themselves, other resources students use to study included Ted Talks, online lectures, YouTube videos and Google, for diagrams and infographics. Students usually went online for additional resources. Students found out about these resources from classmates, the library’s recommended resources list and their lecturers.
The majority of students use videos in their studies, especially to help them understand a concept they can’t understand, finding it helpful watch a video that breaks it down. In addition, when they can’t face any more academic reading, they would rather watch a more light-hearted video relating to the topic. To search for these videos, some students use keywords relating to the topic, rather than looking up particular user accounts and searching within their content. However, others look up specific accounts and search their content (an example of an account on YouTube was Crash Course).
Students agreed that they would attend library workshops if they were tailored to their course. One student remarked that they would like to see and attend library workshops because it feels like “value for money” for their degree fees. Students would be more likely to attend workshops that were timetabled into their schedule because they would feel they are more important. Seeing library workshops advertised motivated the students to come in that day.
However, everyone agreed that they wouldn’t sign-up for a workshop more than a week in advance. To find out about workshops, one student liked the idea of a text message alert, while another like the idea of tailored email (e.g. workshops only for final year students). Students all agreed that they use Facebook for “calendar purposes” (e.g. event reminders and notifications) and that they would find it less intimidating attending a workshop if they had seen on Facebook that their classmates were attending.
And finally, students agreed that the Mendeley referencing tool is a lifesaver.