LSU vet school professor brings power of eBooks to students

Three students discussing project

At-A-Glance Facts

The School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge has three academic departments: Comparative Biomedical Sciences, Pathobiological Sciences and Veterinary Clinical Sciences, and three support units: Veterinary Medical Library, Veterinary Teaching Hospital, and the Louisiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory. The school, accredited by the AVMA Council on Education, offers the DVM degree and MS and PhD degrees in Veterinary Medical Sciences.

Martha Littlefield, DVM, MS, CVA has taken a leading role in bringing eBooks to LSU’s School of Veterinary Medicine. Students use eBooks in the laboratory and for studying, and faculty members are tapping into eBooks’s powerful tools, such as annotation and sharing.


“I saw that students would benefit from using eBooks in the laboratory and at home,” says Martha Littlefield, DVM, MS, CVA, Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine at Louisiana State University (LSU), Baton Rouge. Littlefield, who teaches anatomy classes, committed to working with Elsevier to bring eBooks to her students. “The eBooks are less expensive, are searchable, and the depth of the information and the quickness of getting that information is amazing,” she says.

Finding a Better Way

“I love books, and I collect historic books” Littlefield says. What she didn’t love was carrying her textbooks when she was in veterinary school. “I hauled them around in the back of my car all four years of vet school and used the back of my car as my library,” she says. “It was difficult because they’re very heavy.”

That’s why Littlefield was excited when she first started using eBooks at a local community college where she also teaches. She decided to bring them to her students so they, too, could enjoy their benefits, including highlighting and note sharing.

Littlefield contacted Elsevier, who worked with her and the LSU bookstore to create a package of required and recommended textbooks for students. “The textbooks at the community college were not as user friendly as what Elsevier has,” she says, explaining why she sought out Elsevier. The school has been using eBooks eBooks since fall 2012, primarily for first-year students. The class of 2016 has 88 students and the class of 2017 has 89 students.

Using eBooks Inside the Lab

In the dissection laboratory, most students access eBooks through eBooks on their mobile devices. “They read the dissection guide as they dissect the dog,” Littlefield says. Students worried about dropping their device on the lab’s concrete floor, so she has shown them protection options such as padded iPad covers and putting the device in a clear plastic bag to shield it from fluid.

Students benefit from Littlefield’s ability to share her wealth of knowledge through eBooks. “I have annotated the dissection guide with my personal notes and things that I think are important for them to remember,” she says. She also shares her strategies for remembering key information. “An advantage of eBooks is that I can share my signature color of purple with my students so they can see all my highlights and comments,” Littlefield adds. “All my little sayings are right there in the eBooks.”

Sharing saves Littlefield time. “Instead of my going around and telling all 88 students that you spell ilium with an ‘i’ if it’s the “hip” bone and ileum with an ‘e’ if you “eat” with it, they have it right there.” She can then focus on each student’s individual needs.

Littlefield has given her students another valuable resource. “There isn’t a cat dissection guide available, so I’ve annotated the dog dissection guide with all the cat anatomy considerations that I’ve found throughout the years.” She has cut and pasted information from other books into the notes she shares with her students to add more value.

Using eBooks Outside the Lab

“You can be stuck in your bedroom studying or you can study anywhere with these eBooks,” Littlefield tells her students. “What better way to access your textbooks than to have them right there on your computer, on your iPad or on your iPhone?” eBooks is also available on other mobile devices, including Android tablets and smartphones and the Kindle Fire.

The mobility of eBooks pays off when students engage in problem-based learning, where they meet and collaborate on a clinical case. Littlefield advises students not to rely on Google or Wikipedia for information, saying, “You are going to find out more correct information if you have your textbook, and you don’t have to be at home. You can be in the same room as the group.”

One of Littlefield’s senior students who uses eBooks on his iPad mini stopped her in the hall to say that when his study group discusses a topic, “I just call it up on my book. I can take notes right in the book, and I know the answer.”

Littlefield explains how the speed of access works with eBooks. A search for “patent ductus arteriosis” will find anatomical, physiologic, and clinical information in multiple relevant books all with one search. “It [the speed of searching] makes me really passionate about eBooks versus having to look at this book over here, then look at that book over there. It’s all right here.” Users can also limit a search to one book or a group of books.

Getting the Most Benefit

Littlefield adds that faculty members can best help their students by entering notes for students. “You can put a note at the start of the chapter that tells students which part of the chapter answers which objective,” she says. “Sharing your highlight color with your students lets them know which sections they need to pay special attention to.”

eBooks also helps improve PowerPoint lectures. “It enhances my lecture notes because I can annotate them quickly by adding information from different books,” Littlefield says. Because she can switch back and forth from books to her presentation, “The preparation for the lecture is a whole lot easier.” It also makes it easier for Littlefield to infuse anatomy topics with clinical information to make content more relevant. In addition to her own experience, she taps into many clinical eBooks for resources.

Littlefield adds that in eBooks, the annotation for the material automatically copies along with the text, which she says is a “tremendous advantage. A year from now, you can look at the information and know where it came from.”

Growing Use

Littlefield says the regular updating of eBooks and the ability for her to access information wherever she is, are two key benefits of eBooks. “I store my books on my phone when I go to the veterinary hospital where I do relief work, and I can look something up for a vet who doesn’t have a book,” she says. “They are usually impressed that I can get the information so quickly.”

As more students are exposed to eBooks earlier in their education, eBooks will become more of an expectation. Littlefield sees a generation of learners on the cusp of change. “In the next two years, I think we’re going to see a tremendous number of more students using eBooks,” she says. So that students can gain more benefits from programs such as eBooks, she adds that it’s important for students to see faculty members using these tools.

Littlefield shared her experience at a meeting of veterinarians where she presented information on eBooks. Those who weren’t familiar with this resource said, “This is something we’re going to be able to incorporate.” She adds, “More and more schools are going to use eBooks once they understand what’s there.”

“My first name is Martha, so I look at it as a Martha Stewart moment: It’s a good thing,” Littlefield sums up, using Stewart’s common catchphrase.