According to the College Board, students pay $1213.00 a year on average for books and supplies. A recent survey of 1095 undergraduates released by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found that 70% of students had forgone the textbook at least once because the price was too high. How will students do in the course without the required materials? Access to those materials affects everything from retention to achievement. Many instructors and even the U.S. government think that the answer to the high cost of course materials lies in the shift to digital content now that the marketplace for course materials has evolved to a point that is similar to the distribution of music or videos.
Faculty want their students to use a wide range of materials, from trade books and journal articles to specialized academic texts. However, all of this material isn’t available from a single place. Some digital material can be purchased by students from sites like Café Scribe or Kno which have sole agreements with textbook publishers; some can be purchased for Apple’s iBook app, the Amazon Kindle or the Barnes and Noble Nook; and some sites such as Harvard Business Publishing for Educators allow a print-on-demand option in addition to the digital copy. This fragmentation in the marketplace, including varying consumer rights to digital material and different platforms for different types of users and devices presents challenges for faculty and institutions as we try to think of better ways to provide content in a cohesive and seamless way and as we hope to pass savings onto our students.
Given the above factors, Digital Pedagog set out to make sense of the emerging consumer market for course materials. What follows are 4 ideas that could help curb the cost of course materials and herald new pedagogies for the digital age.
For faculty who like to assemble a list of course materials from different sources, a pricing structure that offers students the opportunity to buy single chapters is attractive. Cengage Learning, for example, sells eChapters which can be accessed from a computer or through mobile apps designed for iPads, iPhones and Androids. Inkling offers major publishers’ textbooks such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson to be purchased by students as single chapters for between $5.00 and $10.00 each. Inkling texts are designed to take advantage of the iPad’s touch capability and graphical interface with interactive quizzes and 3-D illustrations however the material can also be used on a computer. Surely faculty will want to be certain that any required materials can be accessed from a computer and that no exclusive device such as an iPad is needed to use the material unless the device is required by the major.
Whether to require students to purchase accompanying access codes to companion sites or labs for a textbook, is another area for faculty consideration. For example, materials such as Powerpoints and test banks are normally provided with the text. Other times there is added value from requiring an access code. For example, Mark Collins, Assistant Professor of Chemistry at Quinnipiac University (QU), has his students purchase an access code for My Diet Analysis, a database that allows students to analyze their own diet by recording food intake and energy expenditure.
2. Open Educational Resources (OER)
Attention is increasingly turning to the immense savings from open educational resources which have been growing in both availability and quality. Certainly the OER approach appeals to King Lee who has been teaching pharmacology at QU without a textbook since 2010. Biology instructor Michael Vieth, also at QU, creates mash-ups for his BIO161 students using free, interactive labs and animations available online through the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). Open textbooks are also gaining traction with faculty because they are freely available and highly adaptable. Flat World Knowledge is an open textbook publisher that offers faculty complete control over its content and provides students with a free online textbook as well as $34.00 print option.
3. Online Library
Indeed libraries and librarians offer a proactive approach to seeding course materials with scholarly and current information. Universities already pay vast sums of money to license these resources so why not use them?
4. Author-led Publishing
On January 19, 2012 Apple announced partnerships with most of the major textbook publishers making digital textbooks available on the iPad through the iBookstore. While digital textbooks made the headlines, what really aroused interest was the announcement about iBooks Author. iBooks Author, available for free from the Mac Apps Store, is a powerful tool for faculty and students to use to create interactive materials that can be shared through iTunes or the iBookstore as a free download or for a fee. iBooks are currently limited to the iPad device however they can be exported as a PDF and made available outside of the iBookstore. With a PDF, any interactive content such as flash cards will be lost therefore faculty may need to provide this content elsewhere such as in a Learning Management System (LMS) or a Website. Here is a link that provides further details about iBooks Author publishing and distribution.
In summary, the shift to digital content and availability of easy-to-use publishing software is making it possible for faculty to couple new technologies with course re-designs in order to offer cost-conscious alternatives to their students. Digital Pedagog invites you to explore emerging models for course materials. If you are considering creating mash-ups from open educational resources, have materials that you would like to make into an interactive textbook, or are interested in piloting a publisher’s interactive text in your online course, please contact QU Online.
College Board (2011) Trends in College Pricing. New York, NY: College Board, LLC. Retrieved from http://trends.collegeboard.org/college_pricing/report_findings/indicator/Tuition_and_Fee_Room_and_Board_Charges
Dieu, B. (2012) Here Comes the Sun. Retrieved from http://www.flickr.com/photos/bee/6933010553/