Digital Publishing, London Book Fair, Trends in Publishing

Vibes from the London Book Fair 2019

This year’s London Book Fair occurred earlier in the year than usual and was once again held at Olympia – an old favourite for those of us who remember Olympia as the venue for pre-Earl’s Court LBFs. Members of Gold Leaf attended on Tuesday and Thursday.

We were very impressed by the overall attendance, especially on Tuesday: there was a real buzz to the fair, with lots of ancillary activities going on right from the start. We applauded the decision of the fair organisers to ban wheeled laptop cases and suitcases from the aisles this year: it made moving around much less hazardous and increased the feasibility of working to the tight schedules that most of us have to cope with.

So what were this year’s big themes? For academic publishers, Plan S in particular and Open Access publishing more generally probably overshadowed everything except Brexit. (Comments on that, especially from European publishers, were fairly uniform: horrified, puzzled, dismayed by the events unfolding in Parliament while the fair was running.) ALPSP ran a seminar on Plan S and Open publishing on the Wednesday morning, at which David Sweeney, Executive Chair Designate of Research England, was the keynote speaker. Elsewhere at the fair, prominent themes included Fake News – or, rather, how to combat it; freedom of speech; and, on a less abstract level, the rise and rise of talking books (please follow this blog to read more about this in the next couple of weeks).

The PEN stand was mobbed by young authors demanding freedom of speech for all – which until recently would have been a laughable exhibition of preaching to the converted, particularly in such an environment; but recent events in both Europe and the USA, as well as further afield in the world, have now demonstrated very strongly the importance of not taking freedom of speech – not to say the accurate representation of the truth – for granted.

The importance of supporting creativity and allowing authors and other creative artists by maintaining copyright law was also the theme of this year’s Charles Clark Memorial Lecture, delivered by Professor Daniel Gervais, Milton R Underwood Chair in Law and Director of the Vanderbilt Intellectual Property Program at Vanderbilt Law School, which was entitled Copyright, Books and Progress. Professor Gervais’ central premise was that copyright should be fiercely defenced to incentivise the “right things” – i.e., matters central to the progress of human civilisation. He said that it was clear that in order to achieve its aims, new content must not only be created but made available, while finding ways not to disadvantage those who have spent their lives perfecting their creative craft. His message was that rules should be created and observed to maximise access to content, while providing authors with sustainable livelihoods. You will be able to read more details about the lecture on this blog soon.

Stephen Page, CEO of Faber, also spoke of the need to preserve the essential values of civilisation in one of the opening speeches of the fair. Like Professor Gervais, he depicted publishing and the laws and norms that underpin it as central to the development of civilised society. “We need to have the courage to fight for our values we believe in: free speech, respect for ideas and intellectual life, for copyright, and for the right of an artist to make a living; and for our local markets.”

The Author Centre was frantically busy, as usual; and several new amenities were provided for authors, including Author HQ, organised by Midas, which gave pre-chosen authors the chance to pitch to agents in a ‘Dragon’s Den’ kind of way.

Indonesia was the guest country of the book fair this year and some of the Indonesia publications were both exotic and wonderful. However, China seemed to have an even greater representation, and Indian publishers also enjoyed a much higher profile than in the past.

All in all, the atmosphere was joyful, celebratory and can-do. Although – as indicated in this summary – some of the underlying reasons for preoccupations aired at the fair were deadly serious, the end result was the display of an industry perhaps more united than usual about what it stands for.

Pedagogical Resources, Pedagogical trends, Universities

Flipped Learning and OERs

Of the pedagogical trends identified by the research (commissioned in partnership with SAGE Publishing), by far the most prominent were research-led teaching and flipped learning – the latter often mentioned in conjunction with technologically-enhanced resources. 

Flipped learning, which was practised in schools for some time before it took hold in universities, promotes dynamic learning by encouraging the student to take more responsibility for study.  There is no single accepted definition of what it entails, but as well as technological innovation it often involves pre-class prep by students; more targeted use of lecturer contact hours; and the use of (often online) assessment to enable lecturers to identify students’ strengths and weaknesses (with the intent of enabling them to focus on the latter).  It may be delivered as a form of blended learning; and some of the most successful practitioners combine its use with more traditional pedagogical methods.  Despite the fact that one of the reasons for its development was to enable lecturers to cope with large cohorts of students, there is some evidence that it is more effective with relatively small groups.

Open Education Resources (OERs) have enjoyed quite a lot of media exposure recently and are often favoured by senior university administrators, because they help to fulfil the promise that students won’t have to pay extra for resources; and also serve to highlight the uniqueness of the individual university’s offering.  In addition, they win Brownie points by showing support in principle for the Open Access movement. Some academics are enthusiastic about developing them and there have been several serious experiments with OERs at UK universities; but they come with drawbacks.  From the academic’s point of view, chief among these is the time they take to develop, and even more, to keep updated, when academics’ schedules are already being squeezed to fit in teaching, research and administration. 

From the purist’s point of view, an OER is not really an OER if the university is not prepared to make it available to other institutions and students not enrolled in its own institution – an attitude which many adopt now that HE is promoted by the government as a ‘market’ and universities are in competition with each other.  (Such OERs may be contrasted with MOOCs – Massive Open Online Courses – which by definition are Open Access.)

However, an OER doesn’t have to be a full-length book or comprehensive study programme: much smaller units of teaching and learning resource can qualify, such as individual ‘repurposable’ units of knowledge; quizzes and notes placed by lecturers on the VLE; academics’ own podcasts and video clips; and Lecture Capture, but again only if made available to a wider audience than the university’s own students.

———

Once the report is available online, we will post the link here. So, just subscribe to our blog and you won’t miss the release.

Digital Publishing, Pedagogical Resources, Universities

It’s all in the metrics: Reading List Software and other measures

So, how are libraries measuring the success of a resource?

That’s a tricky question, and all the libraries we talked to used a mixture of “hard” metrics such as usage statistics and “soft” ones like student and user surveys. Even though most online resources provide usage statistics, these often are not particularly user-friendly, and don’t necessarily measure the effectiveness of a resource. Reading List Software can give a much better picture, with metrics providing a better understanding of resource use.  It is being used at all the universities we worked with. However, often academics do not engage with the software; it’s not a seldom occurrence for them to refuse using it because they say it’s not user-friendly or they don’t have time to get their heads round it. In most cases, it’s the Library that administers the software and provides the training – and often actually uploads the titles into the system on behalf of the academics.

There is a wide divergence of opinion about how long a reading list should be, and how much new material it should contain.  In some instances librarians use the software to steer academics and students to resources already held by the Library, rather than investing in new ones.

Overall, the evidence shows librarians have a much bigger impact on resource choice and use than they think. They tend to under-estimate their powers of influence: more academics agree than don’t agree that librarians influence reading list choices.

‘Virtuous circle’ of Librarian Influence, (c) Gold Leaf, 2019

For the last post about key findings of the study “How Are Students and Academics Using Pedagogical Resources Today?” (in partnership with SAGE Publishing), please come back to our blog tomorrow, when we will talk about Flipped Learning and OERs.

Pedagogical Resources, Universities

Teaching, Learning and Resources: How Russell Group Universities differ from others (or not)

Are there any differences between Russell Group and non-Russell Group universities?
In terms of teaching and learning resources, the answer would probably be: not really.

The differences we found were not as marked as we had expected. The most notable differences affected the Reading Lists: whilst both long and short reading lists were in use at both types of universities (it does depend heavily on the lecturer), on average the Russell Group Universities saw the reading lists more as a starting point for students to then do their own research into resources, whilst reading lists at non-Russell Group Universities tended to be more often seen as a comprehensive list of material about one subject. The non-Russell Group reading lists did on average contain a much greater range of kinds of resources (blog posts, web sites, government reports, podcasts, videos etc.) whilst Russell Group reading lists seemed to focus more on the traditional book chapters and journals articles.
Though there were exceptions to this rule, Russell Group students seemed to be more committed to reading, while (or maybe because?) traditional teaching methods more often dominated the teaching at those universities. As expected the tension and pressures for academics to meet both TEF and REF requirements were bigger at Russell Group universities, and Learner Analytics as a metric played a bigger role.

It was notable that there was a difference in reliance on digital textbooks: the non-Russell Group used digital textbooks a lot more. This was linked to the fact that students at non-Russell Group universities are more often not expected to pay themselves for resources (non-Russell Group universities were more likely to promote a “no hidden cost” policy), and therefore the libraries relied on digital textbooks to provide access to all students at an affordable price, while students at Russell Group universities were more openly expected (and willing) to buy key textbooks themselves.

However, in a climate of high tuition fees and universities competing for students, the question of who pays this has become quite a pollical topic. The “institution pays” model, where all students are being provided with copies for their textbooks at the beginning of the year, has not gained the traction that was expected when the model was first started. Even though most academics and librarians agreed that students should not be expected to pay for their resources, a “mixed economy” model was the rule at the vast majority of institutions (Russell Group as well as non-Russell Group).

For more key findings of the study “How Are Students and Academics Using Pedagogical Resources Today?” (in partnership with SAGE Publishing), please come back to our blog tomorrow, when we will talk about metrics and Reading List software, and the influence librarians have.

Pedagogical Resources

Are resources changing as pedagogical practice changes?

Unsurprisingly, the study “How Are Students and Academics Using Pedagogical Resources Today?” (in partnership with SAGE Publishing) discovered that although all UK universities are exploring new pedagogies, they are doing so at different rates.  It is also the case that both traditional and innovative teaching methods are preferred not only within the same university, but also within the same departments at some universities; and there is evidence that academics most committed to teaching excellence themselves employ innovative and traditional teaching practices side by side. 

The two most prevalent trends encountered were the ‘flipped classroom’ and research-led teaching, the former often accompanied by an increased focus on technology-enhanced learning.  Some academics promote a wide range of learning resources, including online quizzes and games, simulations, interactive websites and videos, etc., to their students.  As mentioned in yesterday’s post, academics are often acutely conscious of the cost of learning resources, especially textbooks, to students; and for this reason, and because some universities are actively encouraging the practice, the study revealed some interest in the development of OERs (Open Education Resources) by academics themselves.  However, almost all the academics who discussed OERs said that finding the time to develop them, and, even more, to keep them up-to-date, presented a challenge. It is also the case that, because universities are in competition with each other, most of the academics interviewed were not referring to developing OERs in the true sense – i.e., open resources made available to all interested parties – but only to developing them for the use of students enrolled at their own universities.

Despite all these variables, the research produced overwhelming evidence that books – both textbooks and monographs – and journal articles still form the bedrock of undergraduate learning resources.  Other types of learning resource may help encourage students with different learning styles, but those wishing to obtain ‘good’ degrees cannot do so without engaging with the ‘serious’ literature.

Some discrepancies were found between types of learning resource academics said they recommended and those actually used.  Use of journal articles has actually increased, particularly in non-Russell Group universities; and, despite reservations about the currency and cost of textbooks, use of them has not dropped.  There is evidence of increased use of simulations and video games, but starting from a low base – e.g., usage has typically increased from 1% to 4% of a student’s total resource use. Students themselves like short ‘how to’ video clips; YouTube presentations they have found for themselves are particularly popular. 

For more key findings of the study, please come back to our blog tomorrow, when we will talk about the differences we have found between Russell Group and non-Russell Group Universities.

Pedagogical Resources

“How are Students and Lecturers Using Pedagogical Resources Today?”

At the end of 2017, SAGE Publishing commissioned a report from Gold Leaf to explore pedagogical trends and practices at UK universities.  The research was carried out during the whole of the calendar year 2018 and the final report was completed in February 2019.  SAGE will shortly make this report available free via a link on its website, with the generous aim of helping and supporting the UK HE and academic publishing communities.   To celebrate Academic Book Week we will share highlights from the report here on our blog.

The report is a timely study of the UK HE undergraduate environment that assesses the impact of both changing teaching practices and government legislation on pedagogy and pedagogical resources. One of the key objectives has been to understand how publishers can better engage with the academic community to promote optimum learning outcomes, by developing resources that best support academic and student needs.

The methodology employed both primary and secondary research. The primary research took several forms. Three Surveymonkey surveys were circulated to UK academics, students and academic librarians respectively.  Five UK universities were asked to participate in in-depth studies: two post-1992 universities; two Russell Group universities; and one 1960s university. There was especial focus on the following five disciplines: Business and Management; Education; Nursing; Psychology; and Sociology. Academics and librarians representing these subjects at the five in-depth universities were asked to participate in semi-structured telephone interviews. Some further interviews with academics at other Russell Group universities also took place. Students in their second or above years of undergraduate study, where possible representative of each of the five disciplines, were asked to take part in focus group discussions. Six focus group meetings were held altogether.

Extensive secondary (desk-based) research was also carried out. Contemporary professional bodies and websites were consulted. A wide range of publications, including many learned journal articles on pedagogical change, was also consulted.

Those who participated in the in-depth interviews were asked about their attitudes to and relationships with publishers and aggregators.  Academics held quite dusty views about publishers – though it is worth pointing out that some academics wear two hats: that of the lecturer indignant about book prices on behalf of his / her students and that of the author interested in royalties.  However, in general they seem to like publishers less than librarians do; are genuinely concerned by textbook prices; and want more diversity in the formats publishers offer (though not necessarily to pay for this).

Librarians dislike certain pricing models and want more transparency on pricing overall; they want more material to be available via Open Access; more digital material – even though they concede that many students prefer print; fewer usage restrictions; and a more generous approach to access, especially for students at affiliates and alumni.  As a body, they prefer aggregators to publishers.

Students value currency above format; they want textbooks to be shorter and more up-to-date; and some do prefer print.  However, the majority of UK students use both print and electronic, for different purposes respectively.

For more key findings of the study, please come back to our blog tomorrow, when we will talk about changes in teaching practices and resources used for teaching.

Digital Publishing, TEF

While we’re on the subject…

Last week, the Office for Students released some reports and initial findings on the subject-level TEF. What are the conclusions and what does it mean for publishers?

In parallel with the third round of the current TEF, the Office for Students conducted a pilot phase for a subject-level TEF, working with 50 different universities, colleges and other HE providers. (A list of participating institutions has been published by the OfS, but the ratings awarded remain confidential). This first pilot will be followed by a second round of pilots in 2019 to refine the process. The plan is to abolish the current TEF after its forth instalment in summer 2019 and initiate the subject-level TEF in 2020 (application phase) with the first round of results being published in spring 2021.

In the pilot, two different models were being tried, and the conclusion has been made that – despite neither of the models being fully fit for purpose – a “bottom-up” approach was being favoured, though the final model is likely to be a bit of a mix of “bottom-up” and “top-down”. This means that all subjects are being assessed as part of a ‘subject group’ submission but with separate metrics for each subject, and each subject receives a TEF rating of Bronze, Silver or Gold. The subject ratings then feed into the provider-level assessment, which is still being carried out separately.
The diagram below might be helpful in illustrating this:

STEFdiagram

(Source: Office for Students)

One major factor in the lessons learned from the pilot is the need to involve students in the process – after all, the TEF is supposed to be all about students’ experience and their learning outcomes! It has been confirmed that in future rounds the students’ voice will play a more prominent role. This is where it becomes interesting for publishers of learning content, because one of the main concerns the students expressed in the feedback session was that the quality and availability of Learning Resources should be measured and carry a greater weight in the TEF scoring.
As a result a new metric for learning resources will be included in future instalments of the TEF.

Unfortunately, the Publishers’ Association doesn’t seem to have been able to get involved in this (we are aware that attempts by the PA had been made and rejected), but thankfully the students seem to be the advocates for their libraries and ultimately the publishing community – they have realised what an important part the provision of learning resources plays in measuring teaching quality.

(All reports and publications can be found of the OfS website: https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/publications/teaching-excellence-and-student-outcomes-framework-findings-from-the-first-subject-pilot-2017-18/)