The education sector is a rapidly changing environment, which creates new opportunities and brings in new challenges. One of these challenges is the use of Google vs textbooks.

During recent years, I have noticed that most students at our Study Centres don’t buy textbooks. For each topic, they prefer to find answers from Google or YouTube, which in many cases provides inaccurate information, specifically for technical topics.

Yet before rushing into any design decisions, I wanted to know more.

Digging deeper through analysis of the issues

I surveyed three cohorts of IT students:

  • Postgraduate students (n=386),
  • Undergraduate students
    • CSU, 3rd year (n=23), and
    • Holmesglen Institute, 2nd year (n=23).

I was especially interested in finding out how many subjects they were studying, how many textbooks they were buying, the reasons provided for not buying textbooks, other resources they were using to prepare for assessments, and the value students placed on textbooks.

Number of subjects studied by students

Undergraduate students had a slightly heavier subject load than postgraduate students (mostly studying four subjects, compared to three).

Number of subjects studied by students

Number of textbooks bought by students

The majority of postgraduate students (87%) didn’t buy any textbook during Semester 1, 2019. This is despite the fact that they were studying three subjects. Similar trends were seen in undergraduate students. At CSU, 74% of 3rd year undergraduate students didn’t buy textbooks, compared to Holmesglen Institute, where 65% of 2nd year undergraduate students didn’t buy any textbooks.

Student purchase of textbooks

Yet despite the low levels of textbook purchases, around half of all students still perceived textbooks to be important to their study. This was slightly higher for CSU undergraduate students compared to the other two cohorts.

Student perspectives on the importance of textbooks - graph

Other resources used for assessment preparation, and reasons provided for not buying textbooks

Further analysis indicated that high percentages of students used subject PowerPoint slides and in-class lecture notes to prepare for exams and assessments. This was especially high for postgraduate students. Approximately 50% of all three cohorts were also using online resources to find information, and borrowing library copies of the textbook was a strategy used by 48% of CSU undergraduate students, though less by other cohorts.

Other resources used for assessment preparation

While textbook cost was a concern for 30% of CSU postgraduate students, this seemed to be less of a concern for the undergraduate students at CSU and Holmesglen Institute.

Reasons provided for not buying textbooks - graph

Instead, it seems that the availability of additional resources may have contributed to the reasons why students didn’t buy the textbook. For the Holmesglen Institute cohort, 64% found the PowerPoint slides and lecture notes were sufficient for assessment preparation, while only 39% of CSU postgraduate students found these as sufficient. This may suggest that postgraduates extend their use of resources beyond class-provided materials compared to less experienced students at undergraduate level.

What’s next?

A significant number of students either borrow textbooks from the library or use a digital textbook provided by library services. Only a very small fraction of students in this study were buying textbooks.

If undergraduate students develop a trend of not buying textbooks, the same trend may be adopted by them during postgraduate study. I believe more detailed study must be conducted to find more comprehensive information in this matter.

This is a new challenge, as well as new opportunity for academics. The challenge is that, as subject coordinators, we cannot assume that students have access to all the resources listed as a subject requirement. If we can’t rely on that, we have an opportunity to adapt and evolve our teaching to better incorporate digital resources and modify subject designs.

As most students are dependent on online information, it brings about another big challenge regarding the accuracy of digital information. Due to the lack of backup authenticated information like textbooks, it is very difficult to verify correctness of information, even if proper references are sited.

Based upon my analysis, there are many new dimensions being identified which may provide new opportunities to be considered by academic institutes to investigate this new trend of online resource dependency.

Note: Due to small sample of undergraduate student responses, major trends should be established from postgraduate survey data.

For more information, contact Jatinder Warraich (or use his Studygroup email).