fall 2013

Digital MBA

Digitalization has taken a major leap forward at the Open University. The Shoham Center has recently digitalized 150 books in 38 courses for 7,000 students, including texts for the University's entire MBA track.

Since 2011, the Open University's Shoham Center for Technology in Distance Education has been conducting pilot programs to test the effectiveness and efficacy of digital books among its student body. The first such program enabled dozens of students to use a kindle-like device over a period of three semesters to read course materials and prepare for exams. Then in 2012, 20 students taking part in the University's Genocide course were asked to use IPads. The results were so encouraging that over the next two semesters the University expanded the program to 500 students in six courses, and designed the course materials to be compatible with Androids as well as IPads.

Less than 2 years after first introducing digitalization, the Open University of Israel has taken a major leap towards broadening the accessibility of course materials. Some 7,000 students in 38 courses using 150 books can now access the materials on their PC's, Mac's, IPads and Androids. In addition to the entire MBA track, the University has digitalized books in six other courses, including: psychology, finance, accounting, marketing, mass communications and genocide (original test case.)

The new digital books have been specially designed for the digital environment, and are fully integrated with the University's website. Moreover, the University has taken special pains to ensure easy accessibility and personalization. Edna Tal-Elhasid, Director of the Shoham Center, elaborates "When students download the books they sign a declaration in which they agree not to pass on the materials to a third party. We have incorporated a personalization system specially developed at Shoham: the student's name appears on every second page; private information (such as identification number) is hidden within the coding system."

While the University is still in the early stages of examining exactly how the students are using the digitalized books, Edna Tal-Elhasid says that based on past experience, "we know that throughout the year our students will prefer to use the digital editions, but during test periods they prefer the print editions." As such, all students, whether or not they opt for digital, also receive the print versions of course materials.

What next? The University is looking to Stage 5 of its digitalization program, technically called "enriched books" which would mean designing book formats to incorporate interactive and multi-media components. However, Edna Tal-Elhasid cautions that as exciting as this next stage is, it will require much additional work.

"Eventually, the idea is that all the books at the University will be in enriched formats." Currently the University has 700 courses. That is a lot of work. "While we can continue to work on the current materials, we are also thinking along the lines of books that will be published," Edna explains. "If someone wants to write a new book, then from the start we take into account designing the book in an enriched digital format."

Even if it takes a little longer to realize the vision of enriched formats, in the meantime, "there are a lot of benefits of a digital format, enriched or not," Edna concludes. The new digital books in the MBA track point to the benefits of such a plan.