UC now distributes "Common Read Program" reading titles digitally through UC SmartBooks for all first-year and transfer students.





Creating common ground

UC promotes shared discussion and a student community with a new digital “Common Read” for all first-year Bearcats







By Melanie Schefft
513-556-5213 and Jacquelyn Mulay

Photos Flickr Commons and courtesy of UC Creative Services

July 13, 2017


UC is a proud innovator — of co-op, unique teaching styles, distinctive faculty and students and inventive curricula. And now of new program learning via digital textbooks.  

UC SmartBooks –– the university’s new standard eText or digital platform –– brings portability, affordability and new interactive learning experiences to this year’s incoming class. It is also the vehicle for this year’s Common Read Program –– the summer reading assignment for all incoming first-year students.

This year more than 5,000 students with varied life experiences will enter the University of Cincinnati from all over the world. In an effort to unite these first-year students in a unique college experience –– even before they begin their academic year –– UC engages them in shared discussions based on common themes via this program.

And this year’s book — a peek into the fascinating world of a student with autism titled “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s” — is the first “common read” book to be distributed digitally as a UC SmartBook, accessible online from any device, anywhere.

The Common Read Program actually rests on a simple idea: reading the same book brings students closer together as a community by sparking intellectual discussions in and beyond classrooms. It also highlights a diversity of ideas across disciplines and introduces different ways to explore complex issues from a variety of perspectives.

Through the UC SmartBooks platform, their shared reading experience is enriched by an interactivity that happens within the book. Highlighting and note-taking is shared and seen by all and students build a scholarly community in the context of the content.

In short, it helps first-year students to begin reading, thinking and working like scholars.




Table in a coffee shop holding a backpack, ipad tablet, smartphone and beverages. photo/Flickr Commons


High-tech learning in one place

Organizers of the standardized eText initiatve say if students become familiar with a single digital platform, such as UC SmartBooks, for their digital textbooks, they will not be forced to rediscover features on other platforms or search across multiple programs for a particular title or topic.

“And it isn’t only about the students — using a standard eText to access the common read provides faculty members an equal opportunity to discover how [that] platform can be influential as a transformational pedagogical tool,” says Jason Day, senior instructional technologist for UC eLearning.

Day and Mark “Sol” Solomon, UC director of retail administration, note a project of this scale involves a lot of moving parts, which couldn’t have been accomplished without strong cross-departmental university partnerships. At any one time, at least 15 different groups were consistently working together to implement the project, which Day says was the trickiest part.

“Over the course of the last several months, a team of professionals has [made] Herculean efforts to deliver the common read book via our eLearning platform,” says Nancy Petersen, UC director of marketing and publications. “This has tremendous significance as we continue to deliver more affordable course material options and leverage leading-edge technologies.”


UC students walk through Main Street in the middle of campus. photo/courtesy of University of Cincinnati

UC SmartBooks save students money and added weight, with the average backpack weighing slightly less than 20 pounds. Photo/courtesy of University of Cincinnati


eReading saves trees and money

Although acquiring the Common Read book is free for students, they will encounter other UC SmartBooks throughout their UC experience –– and the savings that come with them. Ultimately, it is the efforts of the UC Provost's Textbook Affordability Committee that led to the UC SmartBooks project.  

“When faculty adopt UC SmartBooks –– which students will see as ‘BryteWave’ titles in the store –– or when students choose them independently, we can pass on considerable cost savings to students,” notes Kevin East, director of UC Bookstores. “We’re developing new ways to help faculty be more strategic about course materials adoption.”

The UC Bookstores have created a new website to accommodate faculty with course materials.

UC’s Common Read Program began in 2013, and paperbacks were distributed at all new student orientations through UC’s Center for First Year Experience and Learning Communities which served as a launching point for classroom discussions on social, gender or race issues throughout the year.

This year the Common Read Program was kicked off with the first exclusive digital UC SmartBook –– no more paperbacks.

This was part of an interdisciplinary effort to introduce first-year students to engaging with eText in a non-threatening way.

“Common read touches all first-year students and provides them with a low-risk opportunity to experiment with some of its great highlighting and note-sharing features,” says Day.


Exploring digital learning one eBook at a time

Among the complexities, the project did present many gratifying moments. Day attended the distribution of the UC Common Read in digital format at UC’s first orientation this year and was amazed at how quickly the students were able to access the book via the UC SmartBooks integration in the Blackboard learning management system from an app on any device.

“It was awesome to hear some of the upper-class assistants say that they felt these first-year students were extremely lucky to have this opportunity to experience digital texts this way,” says Day. “Many of them wish they had had this same opportunity their first year.”

The book chosen for this year’s Common Read Program, “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s,” explores the experience of someone living with an autism spectrum disorder called Asperger’s syndrome.

The book was selected by a committee of students, staff and faculty seeking to find one that would reflect the spirit of the “Bearcat Bond” honor pledge and one that reflects the university’s Just Community Principles.

The Common Read Program was introduced at all new student orientations beginning in June and will continue to run through July 20.




Boy's face on the cover of the book titled Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger's

This true story narrated by the central character is a moving, darkly funny memoir about a life that has taken him from developing exploding guitars for Kiss to building a family of his own. It is an account that reveals the importance of diversity and inclusion and how our differences can be our strengths.

Half book-half laptop. photo/Flickr Commons


The UC Common Read Program is sponsored by:

Helpful links:

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