How Aston University is reaping the benefits of Kortext analytics
Serving students from over 120 countries, Aston University was named University of the Year by The Guardian in 2020. It is steadfast in its mission to be the UK’s leading university for students aspiring to succeed in business and the professions, where original research, enterprise and inspiring teaching deliver local and global impact.
Aston’s relationship with Kortext began in 2018, when Kortext offered a pilot scheme giving the library digital access to four key textbooks for students across four modules and explored the benefits of usage data for the library and academics.
Whilst no stranger to eTextbooks, the university recognised the need to scale up in an affordable way to overcome access challenges faced both before and as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Erica Lee, Information Resources Specialist – eResources at Aston University, also cited concurrency issues with print and multi-user books as a driver for change and saw the benefit in adopting eTextbooks on a larger scale to enable continuity of resourcing for the future.
We would get NSS feedback from students saying there aren’t enough books in the library. Students are always in competition for content, so we were never going to satisfy their needs with just printed books.
Then the pandemic hit, the library was closed for several months and, when it did re-open, print was only available on a click and collect basis – so we needed a solution to address the growing need for digital content that’s accessible for all students undertaking any mode of study.
In 2020 when the pandemic hit, Aston University was one of many to benefit from the Free Student Textbook Programme (FSTP). Kortext offered access to the eTextbooks through OpenAthens which was of significant benefit to Aston, enabling easy access to digital content for their entire student base.
If we’d have had to offer free textbooks, as the publishers were doing on a large scale, without OpenAthens, we wouldn’t have been able to do it. We couldn’t have made it work within the VLE. It was an absolute godsend as the library was closed and there was nothing we could do. We then chose to continue with Kortext and the relationship has developed from there.
The university went on to adopt Kortext in December 2020 and has since given over 12,000 students personalised digital access to core textbooks. This allowed the university to reduce the financial burden on these students and remove competition for essential learning content.
Eager to access Kortext’s analytics dashboards, the library now has engagement data at its fingertips to inform acquisition decisions in the future, help academics to provide a more tailored learning experience and justify the adoption of eTextbooks more broadly across the university.
Since roll out, Aston has seen fantastic engagement with Kortext, with 99% of registered students actively using the platform to study and…
◎ 6 million pages accessed
◎ 140,000 study sessions
◎ 169,000 in-book annotations
◎ 130,000 searches
I’ve never seen statistics on that level before. […] I’ve now started sending search terms out to academics as well so they can see what students are searching for and address this in the curriculum
Academic staff feedback
I can only speak for [my cohort] who have told me that reading the textbook and eTextbooks helps them understand concepts and frameworks which they do not always understand in the lectures and seminars. The majority of students seem to prefer the ease of use, accessibility and portability provided by an eBook, particularly the younger members of the MBA cohort.
Once we had Kortext it was the first time I was easily able to read the textbooks I wanted to consider online and promptly in the moment when I wanted to work on the module instead of having to delay to get/borrow copies, or even buy them in some cases. I like being able to read them on my iPad, more similar to Kindle books (which I read a lot), instead of some of the clunky and varied formats from different publishers.
Nicola Dennis, Information Specialist at Aston University, said:
From my perspective within Business and Law, eTextbooks are a game changer because they’ve stopped all the worries about print book availability. […] We’ve now seen messages from students drop off about not being able to access content.
The university has already begun using Kortext’s analytics data to delve into content usage and reflect on the titles being used across the department.
Improving student engagement
The library has been using data on a granular level to compare engagement with print and eTextbooks. Before January 2021, Operations Management (Greasley) was only available to students in print. The library held 43 copies and saw 1015 loans since the book was purchased in 2013. Over the course of 8 months since a digital version was offered to students, the university recorded:
◎ 1,817 study sessions in Kortext
◎ 1,723 in-text searches
◎ 522 in-book annotations
Since introducing the eTextbook, one academic commented:
We had a lot of positive comments and engagement with the topic did improve, witnessed by students quoting parts of the book in their email and webinar questions.
It has been especially useful during the lockdown and will continue to be so in the new more ‘online’ environment in which we now operate. In previous years, students often commented negatively on the lack of an online version of this book – problem solved!
And students are reaping the benefits, highlighted by some of their comments.
I think that the access to reading materials through Kortext that has been available online has been instrumental in my success in the course so far. I tend to do a lot of my writing late at night when I have a clear head and being able to access these resources on demand has really helped. If these had not been available, I have no doubt that I would not be succeeding on the course in the way that I am.
The accessibility of the books was something that made the experience of using e books very easy and enjoyable for me so I’m glad to have had them. However, my favourite feature was the ability to highlight in different colours and make notes – this made me feel like I was using a real book minus carrying the heavy books with me everywhere and losing all of my sticky notes.
Aston University is optimistic about the future of digital content at their institution and the opportunities it presents.
Academics are always asking for more interactive content like simulations and quizzes. I can see these becoming more prevalent in the future.
Our next step is working with Kortext to plan the next phases of the project collaboratively, starting with providing academics with access to their own analytics dashboards so they can see student engagement for themselves.
The pandemic has accelerated digital approaches across the university and our work with Kortext has helped us demonstrate the positive impact of digital content and showcase what’s available and what we, as a library, can do to help.