Ebooks in Education

A Cengage Buffet

6 December 2017

From Inside Higher Ed:

Cengage, the publisher and technology company, is introducing a subscription service that will enable students to access Cengage’s entire digital portfolio for one set price, no matter how many products they use.

The new offer, called Cengage Unlimited, will give students access to more than 20,000 Cengage products across 70 disciplines and 675 course areas for $119.99 a semester. For 12 months’ access the price is $179.99, and for two years the price is $239.99. For students taking three or four courses a semester with assigned course materials from Cengage, the subscription could offer hundreds of dollars of savings a year, versus buying or renting the products individually.

Cengage described the introduction of the Netflix-style subscription service in a press release as a “bold move”; the company has set a strategic goal of being 90 percent digital by 2019. The new strategy is a notable departure from the traditional publishing sales model, which historically has relied on the sale of individual print textbooks. Print sales have been heavily disrupted, however, by the introduction of rental programs, piracy, the sale of secondhand books and the failure by some students to purchase textbooks at all due to prohibitively high costs.

Link to the rest at Inside Higher Ed and thanks to Elizabeth for the tip.

We Take Responsibility for the Content

22 November 2017

From Publishing Perspectives:

In Brussels today (November 21), International Publishers Association (IPA) chief Michiel Kolman participated in the annual lecture event of the European Parliament’s Science and Technology Options Assessment, or STOA.

. . . .

Kolman’s position in this diverse set of voices was as the day’s central representative of book and scholarly publishing, surrounded as the industry is by data-leveraging technology conglomerates.

. . . .

Asking the rhetorical question, “What is the purpose of publishers in this new world?” what Kolman told them was that “Publishers have an important role to play in stopping the spread of misinformation and fake news.”

His thesis was that formal publishing protocols must stand on prescribed, formalized, mutually agreed procedures in order to ensure quality control.

“We [in book publishing] acquire content,” he said, “and in the past 20 years we have increasingly moved it to platforms online, much like a tech company. Speaking from my experience as a science publisher at Elsevier, we can guarantee that the material we produce adheres to the international standards of scholarship. It has been edited, peer-reviewed, and validated.

“In the process it has been revised and revised again to further improve the quality. Most importantly, it is carefully curated so that it remains accessible–and citable–in the future. In other words, we take responsibility for the content we produce.”

. . . .

Nor, however, did he assert that book publishing is without its occasional missteps. “Even after strict peer review,” he said, “the occasional article will slip through and is published while it should not have been. Luckily there are strict procedures in place to deal with these articles, e.g. through a corrigendum or erratum.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

“We take responsibility for the content.” PG wonders how much that is actually worth. It certainly doesn’t cost these publishers a lot of money.

Science and Technical journals are certainly the most profitable part of the publishing world.

The journals pay nothing for their content. Indeed, a respected science journal will receive far more submissions from academics eager to build or maintain their reputation than the journal can publish. Many journals require a submission fee to accompany a prospective journal article. Some journals may require both a submission fee and a printing fee for accepted articles.

Additionally, the academic journal will not pay any royalties to the author and will generally require that the author assign all of his/her copyright interest in the article to the journal for no compensation.

The expertise necessary to adequately review a journal article would be very expensive if the journal had to pay market rates for peer review of the articles it prints.

However, the more prestigious the journal, the more likely that highly-educated professors will provide peer review services at either no charge or an a nominal charge.

Being a peer reviewer for a well-known journal is a credential-burnishing activity by itself. Peer reviewers will have an expectation that when they submit their own papers for publication with the journal that their unpaid services will carry significant weight in the journal’s decision about whether to accept their own papers for publication.

So, you’re looking at a business with no content acquisition costs, free or almost free third-party editorial assistance. If a publication fee is required of the author, the publisher may significantly reduce its printing costs as well. If the publication sells most copies in electronic form on a subscription basis, the printer’s bill will be even lower.

Oh, and as far as selling the journals, once a publication develops even a modest reputation, major academic libraries will feel obligated to purchase the journal. As implied above, electronic subscriptions will essentially require the libraries to pay for each publication over and over again each year.

PG is not terribly impressed when these very wealthy publishing conglomerates “Take Responsibility for the Content.” That high-sounding sentiment is simply a relatively inexpensive cost of staying in a highly rewarding business.


A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens

24 October 2017

From Business Insider:

Today’s students see themselves as digital natives, the first generation to grow up surrounded by technology like smartphones, tablets and e-readers.

Teachers, parents and policymakers certainly acknowledge the growing influence of technology and have responded in kind. We’ve seen more investment in classroom technologies, with students now equipped with school-issued iPads and access to e-textbooks.

In 2009, California passed a law requiring that all college textbooks be available in electronic form by 2020; in 2011, Florida lawmakers passed legislation requiring public schools to convert their textbooks to digital versions.

Given this trend, teachers, students, parents and policymakers might assume that students’ familiarity and preference for technology translates into better learning outcomes. But we’ve found that’s not necessarily true.

As researchers in learning and text comprehension, our recent work has focused on the differences between reading print and digital media. While new forms of classroom technology like digital textbooks are more accessible and portable, it would be wrong to assume that students will automatically be better served by digital reading simply because they prefer it.

. . . .

Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer.

For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension. We were also surprised to learn that few researchers tested different levels of comprehension or documented reading time in their studies of printed and digital texts.

. . . .

Students first rated their medium preferences. After reading two passages, one online and one in print, these students then completed three tasks: Describe the main idea of the texts, list key points covered in the readings and provide any other relevant content they could recall. When they were done, we asked them to judge their comprehension performance.

Across the studies, the texts differed in length, and we collected varying data (e.g., reading time). Nonetheless, some key findings emerged that shed new light on the differences between reading printed and digital content:

  • Students overwhelming preferred to read digitally.
  • Reading was significantly faster online than in print.
  • Students judged their comprehension as better online than in print.
  • Paradoxically, overall comprehension was better for print versus digital reading.
  • The medium didn’t matter for general questions (like understanding the main idea of the text).
  • But when it came to specific questions, comprehension was significantly better when participants read printed texts.

Link to the rest at Business Insider and thanks to Mercy for the tip.

Once Reviled in Education, Wikipedia Now Embraced By Many Professors

23 October 2017

From EdSurge:

A decade ago professors complained of a growing “epidemic” in education: Wikipedia. Students were citing it in papers, while educators largely laughed it off as inaccurate and saw their students as lazy, or worse. As one writing instructor posted to an e-mail list in 2005: “Am I being a stick-in-the-mud for for being horrified by students’ use of this source?”

How things have changed. Today, a growing number of professors have embraced Wikipedia as a teaching tool. They’re still not asking students to cite it as a source. Instead, they task students with writing Wikipedia entries for homework, exposing the classwork to a global audience (and giving students an outside edit by an army of Wikipedia volunteers). There’s even a new peer-reviewed academic journal about using Wikipedia in higher education.

One of the biggest proponents of the power of Wikipedia in the classroom is Robert Cummings, associate professor of Writing and Rhetoric at the University of Mississippi. He even wrote a book about the topic, called “Lazy Virtues: Teaching Writing in the Age of Wikipedia.” EdSurge talked with Cummings about how Wikipedia has changed his teaching and why he thinks professors are changing their attitude about the anyone-can-edit resources.

. . . .

EdSurge: How did you first come to use Wikipedia in your teaching? The anyone-can-edit encyclopedia once had a horrible reputation among academics, and people joked that, “Oh, you can’t trust this thing. Maybe it’s just nobodies sitting their basements writing nonsense.”

Cummings: That’s absolutely right. You have to remember that in that time period, Web 2.0 was a revolutionary concept. The idea that we would contribute content to the internet was still pretty unusual. When people found out that Wikipedia was edited by everyone who just desired to edit, that was a conflict with the way knowledge is valued in higher education.

The Wikipedia process is what I would call public review (everyone’s invited to contribute), while the higher-education process is what we call peer review, where only a limited number of people who are qualified experts are able to comment on knowledge in the peer-reviewed process.

What we’re learning over time is that, of course, Wikipedia had and still has problems with accuracy and relevance. If you go to a slowly-trafficked area on Wikipedia, you might find spotty quality. In fact, you definitely will find spotty quality.

But if you go to a highly-trafficked area and the process is working, then you do find high-quality information, and the immediacy and the availability of that high-quality information makes it a compelling proposition. That’s why it has endured and overcome a lot of significant obstacles.

. . . .

I hear more often these days about teaching with free online materials instead of traditional textbooks (known as OER). Do you see a connection between the growing interest in that and the idea of assigning students to write for Wikipedia?

Absolutely. It’s a continuing spectrum. The OER conversation is very energized right now, and it’s a complex conversation. I tend to focus on aspects of OER depending on the audience. If I’m talking to students about OER, I usually tend to focus on cost because OER is either free or much cheaper, typically, than a traditionally copyrighted textbook, and so students are initially most interested in cost, as are their parents.

When I talk with faculty about OER, I tend to talk about how OER is just a better teaching-and-learning resource—a better teaching-and-learning experience. One important factor is that content in the course through the OER process tends to be much more customized, so the teachers are teaching with texts and resources that are tailored to the outcomes of that course.

When professors use a traditionally-copyrighted textbook, the publisher has tried to put in as much content as they possibly can to make sure that there’s no teacher out there that wouldn’t want to adopt that text. It becomes a very large kitchen-sink approach. The faculty member has usually become very accustomed to taking chapters here and there that fit their particular approach to that class. What we’ve forgotten over time is how confusing that is for a learner because you’re already in a state of confusion because you’re introduced to new concepts, but when you have to follow them through a textbook to get to the information you need, it’s an additional barrier.

Link to the rest at EdSurge and thanks to Mary for the tip.

Students Forgoing Required Learning Materials Due to Cost

22 September 2017

From No Shelf Required:

A growing number of college students are choosing not to purchase textbooks and other required course materials in an effort to save money, according to a new study conducted by Wakefield Research on behalf of VitalSource Technologies LLC.

The study finds 85 percent of the college and university students surveyed have either waited to buy course materials until after the first day of class or opted not to purchase the materials altogether – up five percent from a similar survey conducted in 2016. Nearly all (91 percent) of the students surveyed cite cost as the reason for not buying their books, and half admit their grades suffered as a result.

. . . .

“As costs have risen, we have seen course material cost become a significant barrier to student retention and completion. Students are increasingly finding work-arounds that are not working – like putting off buying materials or choosing not to buy course materials at all.”

. . . .

“With college costs on the rise and student outcomes lagging, offering more affordable options on critical course materials is just common sense,” said Pep Carrera, Chief Operating Officer of VitalSource®, a leading provider of digital learning materials. “In recent years, there has been a marked increase in the number of students who are forgoing course materials due to costs. This is alarming, but even more disturbing is the consequence this decision has on students’ grades.”

The study also confirms students’ interest in “inclusive access” programs as a solution to their textbooks and course material cost woes. Inclusive access rolls the cost of digital course materials into tuition, making it easier for students to automatically access critical learning materials at a more affordable price.

“The prevalence – and success – of digital inclusive access programs has increased significantly in recent years,” said Carrera. “The survey results mirror the anecdotal data we have collected from students about the value of digital course materials delivered through an inclusive access model.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Barnes & Noble Hates Its Customers, and Wants Them to Suffer

14 September 2017

From The Digital Reader:

Some retailers like Amazon try their best to make customers happy, secure in the knowledge that a happy customer is a repeat customer.

Then there is Barnes & Noble, a company out to cause suffering, destroy customers’ futures, and (if they have time ) make blood rain from the sky.

B&N inflicts pain upon customers in many and various ways, but today I would like to focus on the most insidious: Yuzu.

Named for an Asian fruit, Yuzu is a digital textbook platform that Barnes & Noble launched in 2014.  It was in beta at that time, and still under active development.

Alas, development petered out before B&N ever really got it working, but that didn’t stop B&N from continuing to foist the platform on college students.

Every time a new semester started, students would show up in my comment section, complaining about Yuzu. They also left negative reviews in iTunes, where the Yuzu app has a rating of 1.5 stars.

Students were complaining about Yuzu in 2015, and again in 2016, and students were still showing up last week:

Why didn’t I see this before I purchased the textbook with yuzu, its horrible. Do yourself a huge huge favor and buy it from someone else or buy the hard copy. yuzu sucks, it’s very frustrating. it was suppossed to make my studying easier but now I’m stuck with this useless c***. ugh.

It’s now three years later, Yuzu still doesn’t work, and yet it is still the digital textbook solution for all of Barnes & Noble’s 700 plus college bookstores.

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says there’s nothing like ruining your brand with college students to build a foundation for future success selling books into your prime post-college demographic.

E-book expansion could mean student savings

9 September 2017

From the Gainesville Sun:

Florida universities are taking the first steps toward expanding the use of electronic textbooks and other material, hoping to bring significant savings to students who spend hundreds of dollars each semester on traditional textbooks.

The Florida Board of Governors, which oversees the university system, approved a 2018-19 budget request this week that includes a $656,000 program to encourage the greater use of so-called “eTexts” and other open educational resources in lieu of the standard textbooks.

It may take some time to replicate the experience of the University of Indiana, a leader in the use of eTexts, with IU reporting last spring that its students saved an estimated $3.5 million in the 2016-17 academic year by using eTexts in place of textbooks.

But Joseph Glover, provost at the University of Florida and part of a group coordinating innovation and online programs among the universities, said the expanded use of eTexts and other open-source material “is a great opportunity for really substantial savings for our students.”

. . . .

The budget proposal would set aside $656,000 to create a catalog where professors and other instructors, as they are developing their courses, will find open-source material as well as eTexts where lower prices have been negotiated with the publishers, Glover said.

Link to the rest at the Gainesville Sun

PG has said so before, but will repeat himself:

Especially for introductory courses typically taken by large numbers of students, “Introduction to Economics” or “Introduction to Psychology” or “Introduction to Probability and Statistics”, there is absolutely no need to revise and update the textbook for the class (and make students buy a new book) each year.

As the OP implies, there is almost certainly no benefit derived from an introductory textbook published by an educational publisher compared to free materials. Reams of open source material are readily available online from authors who disclaim any copyright to such materials. If there is a question about rights to reproduce, an ebook can simply provide a link to such materials.

If a student really wants a printed version of the ebook, POD is the simplest and cheapest way to obtain it.

Colleges and universities are very liberal in adding various fees to their students’ tuition bills. If there is an ongoing cost to maintaining and updating free etextbooks, a campus with 20,000 undergraduates could generate a one million dollar annual budget to do so by charging each student a $50 ebook maintenance fee. That amount is substantially less than most students would pay for printed course materials for a single class.

No Better Time for Teachers and Librarians to Introduce Teenagers to Self-Publishing Than Now

2 September 2017

From No Shelf Required:

We live in an age in which the resources necessary to self-publish are readily available. Many adults self-publish their books and see them distributed to online retailers and libraries. Some libraries are beginning to facilitate this, especially with seniors who are memoirists, but what of students? What of adolescents whose hearts are filled with passion for life and who need to express their thoughts and feelings, to know that their words can find readers, and that their ideas matter to others? Now, thanks to Smashwords with its technology and how-to guides, educators and librarians can help these young people find their voices and speak to the world.

I send a big thanks to Tonya McQuade, poet, teacher and pioneer in both ebook publishing and in educational leadership.  Tonya McQuade began writing poetry as a child. She has won awards for it, published a book of her own writings, and appeared in anthologies. She has taught high school English for over 20 years. But in 2014, she found herself inspired her to go into self-publishing with her students.

She knew that when students write for an audience, when students write with the knowledge that their words will reach people who will understand them, then students become young writers. They are not writing to satisfy a course requirement or to please a teacher. They are writing to express themselves. And this can change their lives. But how did a busy educator whose forte was poetry not technology find the time and resources to make this work, to write, organize, publish and distribute an ebook? If it had been a printed book, the cost would have been high, but as an ebook, money was not a problem. The problem, had there been one, would have centered on the technology. But there wasn’t any problem.

Los Gatos, California, was the center of a vortex of indie author energy. A great and serendipitous confluence of people and ideas met there, and the dream of publishing ebooks of student writings became a reality.

McQuade taught 9th grade honors English at Los Gatos High School for five sessions per day. Not an easy task. Smashwords, which provided the technology and the know-how, was headquartered in Los Gatos. Mark Coker, the founder of Smashwords, was a graduate of Los Gatos High and eager to share his knowledge with students. Henry Bankhead, a librarian with a passion for self-publishing and a vision of libraries as centers of community publishing and beyond, worked at Los Gatos Public Library. Tonya was friends with Heidi Murphy, then Co-Director of Los Gatos Public Library. Henry Bankhead was the other Co-Director. Through these personal connections and new ways of thinking about authorship, publishing, and the role of libraries in their communities, Tonya found the support she needed to publish her students’ writings in the Los Gatos vortex.

Once these personal connections were made, Mark Coker and Henry Bankhead spoke in-person to McQuade’s classes about the business of self-publishing, the benefits of it, the best practices and so on.

. . . .

The students took their book through all the stages of editing and revision that books need and then released it concurrently with a book launch party organized by the events team and held at the Los Gatos Public Library.

. . . .

Because of the pre-sale work of the marketing team, Windows to the Teenage Soul hit number one in poetry in Apple’s iBooks store on the day of its release and generated several hundred dollars of profit toward the senior prom. The book and its successors remain available through online retailers and library ebook platforms.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Global publishing giant wins $15 million damages against researcher for sharing publicly-funded knowledge

9 July 2017

From Privacy News Online:

It’s not every day that one of the world’s largest publishing companies is awarded $15 million in damages for copyright infringement against a site set up by a Kazakh neuroscientist. That makes the almost total lack of wider coverage of Elsevier’s win in New York against Sci-Hub surprising. But it is only the latest development in a saga that is of great interest for the deep flaws it exposes in both scientific publishing and copyright itself.

The court awarded $15 million damages to the scientific publisher on the basis of 100 articles published by Elsevier that had been made available without permission on Sci-Hub and a similar site called LibGen. At the time of writing, Sci-Hub claims to hold 62 million scientific research papers – probably a majority of all those ever published – most of which are unauthorized copies. According to a report in the scientific journal Science last year, it is Elsevier which is most affected by Sci-Hub’s activities:

“Over the 6 months leading up to March [2016], Sci-Hub served up 28 million documents. More than 2.6 million download requests came from Iran, 3.4 million from India, and 4.4 million from China. The papers cover every scientific topic, from obscure physics experiments published decades ago to the latest breakthroughs in biotechnology. The publisher with the most requested Sci-Hub articles? It is Elsevier by a long shot – Sci-Hub provided half-a-million downloads of Elsevier papers in one recent week.”

Those figures help to explain why Elsevier has been pursuing Sci-Hub doggedly for some years. Back in December 2015, the same New York judge who has just awarded the $15 million to Elsevier issued a preliminary injunction against the site’s operator. Access to the original domain – sci-hub.org – was suspended, but it carried on using a different domain. Its servers, meanwhile, remain beyond the reach of US law, since they are located in Russia. In the age of VPNs, attempts to block the site are similarly pointless.

. . . .

Most of the papers published by Elsevier and the other academic publishing houses and found on Sci-Hub were written by scientists and academics whose research grants were paid for by the public. Once written those papers were submitted to a relevant journal, where an editor or editorial board chose which ones should be considered for publication. To that end, the papers were passed to referees who scrutinized them as part of the peer review system, whereby fellow academics read the text, and judge whether it deserves to be published as is, or needs revisions and corrections. Typically, neither editorial boards nor peer reviewers are paid for their work, which is carried out as a kind of academic responsibility accepted by all as part of the job, and done for the greater good of society.

That is, most of the work writing, checking and editing a paper is carried out completely for free. The only costs that academic publishers incur are typically for production, which are limited if publication is purely digital, as is increasingly the case. Given the extremely efficient nature of the academic publishing system, it will come as no surprise to learn that leading companies in the sector – including Elsevier – have consistently achieved profit margins between 30% and 40%, levels almost unheard of in other industries.

Such elevated profit margins have come as the prices paid by academic libraries to subscribe to titles have increased rapidly. While the cost of living increased by 73% between 1986 and 2004, the expenditure by research libraries on subscriptions to academic journals went up by 273% in the same period. The trend has continued since then.

Link to the rest at Privacy News Online and thanks to Paul at  The Digital Reader for the tip.

What is the biggest challenge in university-press publishing?

6 June 2017

From The Chronicle of Higher Education:

People are convinced there’s a crisis in university-press publishing — that we’re dying off in significant numbers, that we’re unsustainable, that dramatic changes are inevitable. None of this is true. Print, books, and bookstores are all healthy. Library sales are on the decline, it’s true, but they have been for generations. If anything, it feels like book publishing, including university presses, has achieved a new normal.

But I worry that the perception of crisis (stemming in part from a tendency to conflate for-profit journal publishers and not-for-profit university presses, which focus primarily on books) threatens to cause a crisis by undermining support for traditional university presses. If we seem doomed despite the evidence, after all, why continue to support us?

The book is necessary and important — and, while it’s hardly a static artifact, it’s proved remarkably durable. Books are also expensive, especially in terms of the skilled labor necessary to acquire and market them. But they’re worth it. In the current environment, with its emphasis on disruption and the widely promoted belief that university presses are a “problem” in search of a “solution,” our biggest challenge is making sure people don’t lose sight of that.

. . . .

There are roughly 4,200 institutions of higher education in the United States. These institutions rely on the work of some 140 scholarly presses to assure a critical function: the independent review, assessment, and distribution of the best ideas of faculty members, which in turn makes a clear basis for the evaluation of a scholar’s contribution to a field. But instead of finding ways to share the costs of this necessary system equally across all institutions, the sponsoring institutions have themselves increasingly abandoned their presses to the whims of the marketplace, effectively rendering these presses less and less distinct from trade publishers.

. . . .

We’ve seen e-book sales plateau and drop, so we aren’t experiencing the print reduction offset by the digital. Amazon, our biggest reseller, instituted a new policy that requires a minimum threshold of demand in order to carry stock. That’s a scary scenario. Our authors are constantly looking at Amazon and get nervous when they don’t see their title listed as “in stock.” —Fredric Nachbaur

Link to the rest at The Chronicle of Higher Education

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