Ebooks in Education

Better World Libraries

3 December 2019

From Library Journal:

The Internet Archive (IA) on November 6 announced that its longtime not-for-profit partner, Better World Libraries, had acquired Better World Books, a mission-driven for-profit bookseller that has donated almost $29 million and more than 26.5 million books to global literacy programs during the past two decades. Better World Books’ Library Discards and Donations program, launched in 2004, has also been a major contributor to the company’s efforts to redistribute or recycle an additional 326 million books.

. . . .

“One of the biggest challenges facing libraries today is responsibly removing materials from their shelves so they can bring in more desirable materials or repurpose space to fit community needs,” Jim Michalko, Better World Books board member and former president of The Research Libraries Group, explained in the announcement. “Now, libraries can provide books to Better World Books knowing that a digital copy will be created and preserved if one doesn’t yet exist.”

. . . .

“What we’re trying to do is weave books into the Internet itself, starting with Wikipedia,” Kahle said. “The idea is to turn all of [Wikipedia.org’s] footnotes into live links, so that anyone who wants to go deeper from a Wikipedia article, can click on a footnote and open a book, right on the right page.”

IA has an ongoing relationship with Wikipedia. Notably, IABot crawls Wikipedia pages searching for broken links and repairs those links by finding an archived version of the original webpage using IA’s Wayback Machine. To date, the bot has repaired more than ten million links.

“Now, we have a robot going through [Wikipedia] and augmenting book citations with links to books in the Internet Archive,” Kahle said. “That, we think, is a big deal for usability. And it helps battle misinformation by taking the best, vetted information that we have and making that accessible to Wikipedia writers and also readers. The next puzzle beyond that is ‘how do you go and scale that up?’ We now have over 120,000 Wikipedia citations pointing to over 40,000 books, but we want to get to millions of links going to millions of books. The way we’re going to get there is by working really closely with Better World Books.”

IA has already digitized over four million books, most of which are public domain titles published before 1923, Kahle said. Its leadership aims to digitize four million more during the next four years—primarily 20th-century content obtained through the new Better World Books pipeline, as well as direct donations from libraries and other sources.

. . . .

Links to reliable sources will help “fulfill the promise of the internet as a library that people can depend on for reference work,” Kahle said. In this case, digitized books will be used “less for beach reading, more for jumping in and out of books—fact checking.”

Link to the rest at Library Journal and thanks to Marv for the tip.

Open Educational Resources: The Story of Change and Evolving Perceptions

3 December 2019

From No Shelf Required:

Although the term may still not be familiar to the wider public—including college students and faculty—Open Educational Resources (OERs) have been an integral part of education worldwide for at least two decades. OERs generally refer to digital educational materials that anyone anywhere can use freely and legally, including the user’s right to copy, share, enhance and/or modify them for the purposes of sharing knowledge and enabling education. These run the gamut and stretch beyond digital textbooks—usually perceived as the most common educational resources—to include everything from course materials, university courses, e-learning platforms, software, and streaming videos to lectures and digital repositories of monographs and journals.

. . . .

Regardless of how different and varied OERs may seem at first—ranging from single books to multi-functional and comprehensive platforms—what makes a resource an OER is that it is freely available to anyone, notwithstanding a person’s location and affiliation. OER users may well be college and university students, but they may also be independent learners, researchers or lay readers. Of course, ‘open’ does not mean ‘without any restriction’ or ‘without any financial support.’ It simply means ‘free access.’

Likewise, ‘open’ does not mean ‘without financial backing.’ The mechanisms through which resources become ‘open’ and ‘free’ are complex, always evolving, and require ongoing financial support. A variety of financial models exist on the market that contributes to the sustainability of OERs (Downes, 2007), ranging from, among others, endowment models (funding is usually received from charitable foundations) and membership models (participating organizations contribute a certain amount as members) to sponsorship models (a range of commercial messages, more subtle or less subtle, may interrupt learning and reading), and institution models (various institutions assume the full responsibility for their OER initiatives and bear the financial burden).

WELL-KNOWN OERs

  • MIT OpenCourseWare, an online platform housing free
    eductional and teaching materials from MIT courses
  • Open Textbook Library, a catalog of free, peer-reviewed, and
    open textbooks
  • Open Course Library, a collection of materials, including syllabi,
    course activities, readings, and assessments
  • Khan Academy, an online source of short lessons in the form of
    videos and practice exercises and materials for educators
    National Science Digital Library, a library of collections and
    services supporting STEM education
  • OER Commons, a collection of over 50,000 university courses,
    open textbooks, interactive mini-lessons, and K-12 lesson plans
  • Wikipedia, the world’s most used free encyclopedia
  • Wikimedia Commons, a repository of free digital images
    and various media files

In the context of libraries, OERs as we know them have been around for longer than two decades. Librarians have, in many ways, contributed to the infrastructure of open education long before various types of OERs became the norm. The Internet Archive, for example, has been up and running for nearly a quarter of a century, while Project Gutenberg, the first online repository of public domain content—also a form of OER built and maintained by volunteers, including librarians—has its beginnings in the early 1970s. These initial undertakings paved the way for the advent of new, more specialized types of OERs used today. And as education began moving in the direction of open digital textbooks—scattered in disparate sources online that students and faculty had little awareness of—librarian roles in colleges and universities began to shift, requiring more active participation in the discovery of OERs.

What exactly has contributed to the explosion of OERs in recent years? The steep cost of textbooks and higher education in general, particularly in the United States, is frequently attributed to their popularity perhaps more than any other factor. According to the College Board, undergraduates now spend an average of $1200 on textbooks annually, and this remains a concern.

. . . .

  • OERs are widely and universally available
  • technology has made the cost of sharing OERs practically non-existent
  • given their digital nature, OERs can be modified to fit various needs
  • OERs help accelerate the advancement of human knowledge
  • due to ongoing technological improvements, OERs can reach learners faster than print textbooks
  • OERs allow students and parents to save significantly
  • OERs promote self-directed learning
  • OERs reach large numbers of learners at the same time, regardless of their location
  • OERs have revolutionized the way remote students or long-distance learners approach education
  • OERs allow for a more extensive peer review process

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

Open Access: It is up to librarians to make it happen

14 November 2019
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From No Shelf Required:

In the past few years, the book and library industry has witnessed many lively discussions about the present and the future of the Open Access (OA) movement and its sustainability for both academic publishers on the one end (i.e., those who need sustainable business models to produce quality content that can be shared openly for years to come) and libraries and academic institutions on the other (i.e., those who need to support it financially in order for it to keep going, because, without their investment, OA fails publishers, authors and the scholarly community at large. Most such discussions focus on what OA can and cannot do for librarians and publishers. Less often, however, they involve those two sides discussing how their actions (and inactions) affect those who are supposed to benefit from the idea of open access and open science: scholars and researchers. More specifically: scholars and researchers in countries where access to science and scientific knowledge remains sparse and uneven and where libraries do not have the means of supporting their academics and scientists the way libraries in the more developed parts of the world do.

. . . .

The goal, therefore, was to discuss the impact of OA on research globally and consider if the promise of OA to equalize access for users and researchers beyond the most affluent academic markets is being achieved. This helped center the discussion around the following: Do researchers have access to freely available academic content as much as we assume they do? Do they know where to find it? How easy is it for them to find it? Are the sources and platforms available to them delivering a quality user experience? And are scholars around the world able to take advantage of the new publishing opportunities afforded to them through various initiatives?

. . . .

North America and Europe are seeing the highest usage of OA books, while Latin America and Africa are seeing the lowest, with Latin America, in particular, lagging behind the rest of the world.

The panelists also discussed OA publishing models and their success in countries where Open Access is vibrant as well as in those where it is still emerging; the costs involved for researchers to publish Open Access; ways in which users in emerging markets benefit from OA content; and the role of academic libraries—large and small—in providing the necessary support.

. . . .

If we consider, for a moment, the sheer number of OA initiatives unveiled in recent years, and the volume of quality content made available OA, it becomes obvious that the scholarly community has made great strides in figuring out what works and what doesn’t, both with journals and with monographs. Publishers and scholars are certainly not objecting to the concept of publishing Open Access. On the contrary, they seem more eager than before to embrace OA publishing possibilities and opportunities (KU alone works with over 100 publishers, ‘unlatching’ books by hundreds of HSS and STEM scholars each year; likewise, IntechOpen works with tens of thousands of scholars worldwide to help them publish their scientific findings and make them widely available).

Indeed, if at this point in the OA narrative, the issue isn’t whether the publishing community is willing to embrace an entirely new way of operating, the ball is back in the court of academic libraries and academic institutions. And questions again arise: Will libraries continue to set aside significant funding to support OA, or will they, in the face of limited budgets, marginalize OA content in favor of subscription products and services?

. . . .

The average STEM book which would have comfortably sold a couple of thousand units a few years ago is now achieving only a few hundred. For the print market, OA has shown to be excellent publicity and (what remains of) print sales hasn’t been detrimentally impacted . . . .

. . . .

Similarly, few academics are aware of the more liberal terms available through OA licenses, including author retention of copyright and flexible content reuse compared to the more traditional copyright-transfer type of agreement . . . .

Scholars are increasingly aware that OA edited book publications (or ISBNs) have comparable submission, review, decision and publication times. Typically, OA book chapters demonstrably achieve higher impact – through greater discoverability, downloads, citations and online mentions – and so for scholars seeking deep dissemination of their work, OA books are an attractive option . . . .

. . . .

The industry should embrace all colors, flavors, and degrees of Open Access and remain more tolerant when applying the standards. New techniques and services must be created to reduce the ‘handicap’ of indie publishers . . . .

. . . .

The majority of researchers don’t really care about the publication method, as long as they have access.

Link to the rest at No Shelf Required

For visitors to TPV who have not seen previous posts about the world of academic/scientific publishing, here are the basics:

  1. Traditional academic/scientific journals are generally owned by one of a handful of academic publishers who have consolidated their ownership of various publications that were formerly owned on an individual basis over a period of years.
  2. Traditional academic/scientific journals are available via very expensive subscriptions, the cost of which has escalated substantially during the past several years. Some college/university/research institution libraries are unable to afford these costs and, consequently, are not able to provide access to some publications to professors, students and researchers.
  3. The authors of the articles appearing in academic/scientific journals, particularly those in junior/intermediate positions need to publish articles in respected journals in order to retain their jobs and obtain promotions to more secure positions.
  4. Typical publishing contracts offered to authors by traditional academic/scientific publishers require the author to transfer copyright ownership to the publisher and pay the author no royalties other than a few copies of the publication. Any financial benefits from their writings come to the authors via improved job prospects or enhanced employment security from their current employers.
  5. To add insult to injury, many academic/scientific publishers require the author to pay a fee to the publisher when the paper is submitted, ostensibly to cover the publisher’s costs of managing the process of peer review. Thereafter, for accepted papers, some publishers charge the author a per-page “printing” fee and/or a separate publication acceptance fee.
  6. Peer review of papers submitted to academic publishers by teachers/professors/researchers to determine the validity/credibility of the content, methods, conclusions, etc., of the submissions is generally performed by other teachers/professors/academic authors in the field who receive no monetary compensation for their work from the publishers. Non-monetary compensation may come to reviewers via more favorable reception of future papers written by those reviewers when the papers are submitted to the publisher.
  7. After a slow start, academic/scientific publishers are reaping the substantial financial benefits of electronic subscriptions to their publications.
  8. Despite the lowered costs of distributing many of their publications electronically (instead of printing, warehousing, shipping, etc. physical copies of the publication), academic/scientific publishers typically sell subscriptions to their publications in expensive bundles that include popular as well as less-popular publications. The largest publishers will not sell a subscription to a particularly useful single publication in an unbundled form. Institutions in poorer parts of the world are often unable to afford the costs of these bundled subscriptions, depriving their professors/researchers/students of access to the latest developments in a scientific/technical field.

The Open Access movement described in the OP is an effort by a variety of researchers/educators/scientists/academic librarians to recreate the infrastructure provided by traditional academic publishers for authors and institutions on a less-expensive basis.

Is Artificial Intelligence the Ultimate University Stimulus?

10 October 2019
Comments Off on Is Artificial Intelligence the Ultimate University Stimulus?

From readwrite:

What does it take to make the university the best learning experience in the lifecycle of one’s education? Higher education is all about developing skills, exploring new theories, and applying them to the actualities of real life. Throughout this journey, students are encouraged to stay on top of their workload, study, and complete assessments all while simultaneously leading a healthy, active, and balanced social life.

. . . .

The essential materials relied on at university include books, books, and more books. As we move into an age of digitalization of practically everything, there is a reason to believe that the existing higher education model should too be digitalized to allow for an enhanced university experience.

. . . .

Based on a one-module-fits-all curriculum, where students are all expected to learn the same thing in the confines of a classroom, they will then be assessed by examinations based on rigid criteria to determine a pass or fail. These intrinsic features of the education system do little to contribute to an enhanced learning experience. Instead, prospects for development under the current model seems to have come to a halt.

. . . .

Having the entire world become digitalized is essential as little else could be more detrimental to the future than our young minds being taught in obsolete ways. Artificial intelligence has disrupted almost every industry. The AI market is expected to generate $3 trillion in revenue by 2024.

. . . .

AI’s ability to make recommendations and produce answers based on patterns and inferences is precisely what humans cannot do on a mass scale – and precisely what our existing university structure demands.

University 20.35, (https://2035.university/en/), introduces the first university model that provides opportunities for professional development by creating individual educational trajectories and tracking digital skill profiles using artificial intelligence.

The use of digital footprints, which the platform collects during educational processes measures and analyses the students’ skills. Then, it confirms or refutes whether a trajectory module teacher can efficiently transfer skills to the students.

. . . .

We might conjure up images in our heads of groups of students studying together, in an attempt to improve their existing skills and fill in the gaps in their knowledge. Before the introduction of AI, this image of students was the only one conceivable, but it’s not the most effective.

AI, through the collection and analysis of digital footprints, allows for the creation of each students’ digital twin. Digital twins are essentially the digital replica of physical assets, i.e., the physical twin or the replica is of the student.

This accurate and near to real-time data based on digital footprint as well as some biological data can help to establish better solutions for students. This includes the biological of the surroundings as well as personal biolgical data. The application of the digital twin in higher education has the potential to shed light on gaps in the student’s knowledge, their forgetfulness, and hone in on their strengths.

. . . .

Through AI, digital twins can materialize into a functional and personal study buddy.

Twinning is effectively a solid starting point for the development of a proactive educational study plan. From here, as the data reflects the student’s actual profile, the near to real-time data of the students’ progress will represent the students’ knowledge and skills.

Twinning can also be modeled to take into account what the student forgets and the skills they are practicing. The digital economy awaits, and as things stand, the next generation of our workforce have been and continue to be, educated and trained in an educational model that is incompatible with the digital future.

Link to the rest at readwrite

PG notes that the computer becomes the books in this model.

The Future of Textbooks

8 October 2019
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From The Bookseller:

Pearson’s chief strategy officer Jonathan Chocqueel-Mangan will give insights into the publisher’s new digital-first textbook policy at FutureBook Live 2019, The Bookseller’s publishing conference. Chocqueel-Mangan will be speaking as part of the conference’s learning stream, which this year will explore key topics including the future of textbooks, publishers’ responses to Open Access mandates, and how UK school classrooms are adopting new learning technologies.

In the textbooks session, Outsell v.p. and lead analyst Kate Worlock, Blackwell’s c.e.o. David Prescott and Lucy Mills, head of publishing (education) in English, Humanities and Languages at Cambridge University Press, will join Chocqueel-Mangan to debate the future shape of textbook teaching and learning across the range of schools and higher education publishing, including international schools. Meanwhile in a session titled “Leading from the Front: how publishers can shape the Open Access debate”, Springer Nature’s chief publishing officer Steven Inchcoombe will discuss his view of how publishers must become “active drivers”, rather than just “passive enablers” of OA.

. . . .

Benedicte Page, deputy editor of The Bookseller, said: “The academic and education fields are facing seismic change, and publishers must make major choices as they look to help their businesses survive and thrive. The FutureBook Live learning stream will pick out some of the central strategic issues facing the industry, and bring together a range of individuals offering innovation, new enterprise and leadership in the field.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Pearson Plunges After Warning on U.S. University Slowdown

27 September 2019

From Bloomberg:

Pearson Plc, the education publisher, dropped 14% after it said earnings would be at the low end of their expected range due to weakness in sales to U.S. universities.

The London-based company had set 2019 guidance for adjusted operating profit of 590 million ($729 million) to 640 million pounds, and the caution reflects shrinkage in U.S. Higher Education Courseware, a unit which makes up a quarter of Pearson revenue, the company said Thursday. The shares fell the most since January 2017, and traded at 726 pence at 8:19 a.m. in London.

Scholars are abandoning traditional textbooks faster than sales of digital learning tools can replace them, and Pearson is already undergoing a transformation program which has seen it cut jobs and sell offices, including the former headquarters of the Financial Times newspaper. It is also losing market share as customers change their consumption habits, including a trend of students using materials that they can get for free, Berenberg analyst Sarah Simon wrote in a research note Thursday.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg

 

AAP Flags Declining US Student Spending on Textbooks

13 September 2019

From Publishing Perspectives:

In a statement issued late Wednesday (September 11), the Association of American Publishers reports that average student spending on college textbooks and course materials in the United States has steadily declined in recent years.

. . . .

Student Watch reports a drop of 35 percent over the past five years and Student Monitor indicates a 29-percent decline over the same time period.

. . . .

“When it comes to acquiring course materials, students have more choice and more affordable alternatives than ever, including rental options for both print and digital materials, loose-leaf versions and creative new distribution models such as inclusive access and subscription services.

“The statistics make it clear that students are taking full advantage of the new, cost-effective options that publishers have made available, which has led to a significant decline in student spending.”

. . . .

Student Monitor’s “Lifestyle & Media” report found that student spending on course materials went from an average of US$691 for the 2014 to 2015 academic year to $492 for the 2018-2019 academic year.

In the most recent semester for which data is available, the report indicated that average spending on course materials went from $281 for spring of 2018, to $239 in spring of 2019, a decline of 15 percent.

. . . .

In the AAP report, the staff writes, “Education publishers have long acknowledged that students struggle with overall college expenses.”

Because there’s no such thing as a ‘one size fits all’ solution for college course materials, the AAP notes, education companies are addressing affordability by launching new initiatives such as “inclusive Access,” which provide students with materials on the first day of class—often at a reduced cost—because they’re purchased in volume.

“Other options like subscription models provide unlimited access to a range of textbooks, open course materials, online homework access codes and study guides all for one price,” the AAP says.

. . . .

According to the Student Monitor report, the AAP points out, the $239 in average student spending during the spring 2019 semester included:

  • $102 for new, printed textbooks
  • $59 for used, printed textbooks
  • $47 for rented, printed textbooks
  • $20 for digital textbooks for unlimited use
  • $11 for digital textbooks for limited-time use

Student Watch reports that as of 2019, about one in four students (26 percent) preferred a strictly print textbook, down 21 percent from its highest point in fall 2016, but down only 6 percent from fall 2012 when the question was first asked.

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Authors Guild Says Cengage Failed to Renegotiate Contracts

26 August 2019
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From Publishing Perspectives:

The Authors Guild in New York has today (August 23) issued a statement on the class action lawsuit filed against Cengage by a group of writers for the service.

As Publishing Perspectives readers will recall from our mention of this case on August 19 that this is the second time writers have challenged the Cengage Unlimited subscription offer for students and educators, alleging that it violates the author agreement the company has had with its writers.

The new case, as charges that Cengage’s switch to the subscription model changes the royalty formula by which authors were on contract to be paid.

As the legal team at the guild is describing it, the authors now are in court against Cengage “for violating the terms of their contracts by unilaterally changing their payment structures from a traditional per-sale royalty to a relative-use share, thereby lowering their income dramatically.

. . . .

Throughout the first round of legal action, which led to a settlement in October, Cengage’s leadership, under CEO Michael E. Hansen, maintained that its writers were informed and that its development of the subscription model didn’t violate their contracts. In one interview with us, Hanson suggested that authors could well benefit in their usage-based payments as students and instructors explore more subjects and information they can find on offer.

By the end of April this year, Cengage Unlimited was announcing more than 1 million subscriptions since the launch of Unlimited in August 2018.

But a year earlier, the company had been engaged in an effort to defend the efficacy of the subscription model for authors, stating that it was “disappointed” to find some of the writers filing a complaint.

At the time, the company stated, “We have communicated clearly with our authors that the subscription service is consistent with the terms of their contracts, which we continue to honor. … Our authors, like those at our competitors, have seen declining royalties as a result of high prices that lower demand. The subscription service addresses students’ concerns and enables a more sustainable business model for the company and our authors.”

Now, the Author Guild’s legal assessment of the situation is that the change in Cengage’s approach–”to relative-use of an author’s title as compared to other titles in the same revenue pool, instead of paying the author a traditional per-sale royalty provided for in the publishing agreement”–is problematic in ways the company knows from the first court contest.

. . . .

“Rather than negotiating the terms in good faith and giving authors a chance to bargain for their fair share of digital subscription revenues, Cengage unilaterally decided what its authors’ contributions were worth. In doing so, Cengage took advantage of authors, hedging that few authors would have the resources to mount a lawsuit.”

. . . .

[I]n the fall of 2017 [Cenage CEO Michael Hansen] surprised much of the industry–and even his own sales staff, in his telling of it to Publishing Perspectives–by announcing that some 22,000 pieces of content would be made available by subscription. “I’m not in the business of getting standing ovations,” Hansen said to us at the time with a laugh. “But at this last sales conference when we announced it in Texas, the reaction was, ‘This is bloody brilliant. This solves the price objection, it just solves it.’”

. . . .

And as early as 2016, Hansen had worried aloud in making an address to Klopotek’s Publishers’ Forum in Berlin under Rüdiger Wischenbart’s direction that “We as an industry didn’t care about students.”

By that, he meant that faculty members had become the consumer-targets of the educational industry. Cengage had seen a single quarter drop of 23 percent of sales once students had rejected $150 to $200 textbooks. Facing $5.5 billion in debt, Hansen said, “was the least of our problems. We had never designed a textbook with a student sitting next to us.”

. . . .

Update, August 26: In response to Publishing Perspectives’ request, Cengage has sent this statement:

“We are disappointed to see these complaints against our efforts to improve students’ access to affordable, quality learning materials.

“Since its inception in March 2011, the MindTap learning platform has consistently helped students achieve higher retention, grades and confidence. However, despite significant investments in proven products, it became increasingly apparent that students were not able to afford them. Our authors, like those at our competitors, saw declining royalties as a result of high prices that lowered students’ demand.

“The Cengage Unlimited subscription service was created to address this longstanding problem. It also enables a more sustainable business model for the company and our authors.

“We have communicated clearly with our authors that the subscription service is consistent with the terms of their contracts, which we continue to honor. Since the service launched, we are in regular communication with them about the impact of the subscription on their royalties.

“We look forward to vigorously responding to these complaints as we remain steadfast in our belief that our industry must do more to contribute to affordable higher education.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives

Of course, it’s all about the students. Over many years, textbook publishers have reduced their prices year after year to help rein in the escalating cost of obtaining a college education and allow students to minimize the long-term burden of paying back large student loans.

From Vox:

Hannah, a senior at a private university in New York City, can’t think of a single semester when she bought all the books she needed for her classes. “Even when I was studying abroad,” she said, “there was no way for me to get through the semester without dropping $500-plus on textbooks, which I couldn’t afford.”

So she didn’t buy them. That semester, Hannah, who asked that her name be withheld due to privacy reasons, found most of the books she needed on Scribd, an e-book subscription service. “I used my free trial to do pretty much all my work for the semester and to take screenshots of things so I could access everything once the trial ended,” she said. If she couldn’t find them there, then she would do without.

Hannah’s tuition and housing is covered by scholarships, but she has to use student loans to pay for her health insurance; she pays for other necessities, including textbooks, out of pocket. In other words, her generous financial aid package isn’t enough to cover the essentials. Her situation is far from unusual: A 2014 report by the Public Interest Research Groups found that two-thirds of surveyed students had skipped buying or renting some of their required course materials because they couldn’t afford them.

Textbook publishers, for their part, have begun acknowledging that textbooks and other course materials have become so expensive that some students simply can’t afford them, even if it means their grades will suffer as a result. Publishers claim that new technologies, like digital textbooks and Netflix-style subscription services, make textbooks more affordable for all. But affordability advocates say that if anyone is to blame for the fact that textbook costs have risen more than 1,000 percent since the 1970s, it’s the publishers — and, advocates claim, these new technologies are publishers’ attempt to maintain their stranglehold on the industry while disguising it as reform.

. . . .

Some professors don’t assign textbooks at all, instead opting to fill their syllabi with a combination of journal articles and other texts, some of which cost money, some of which don’t. Thanks to the advent of textbooks that come bundled with online access codes — a single-use password that gives students access to supplementary materials and, in some cases, homework — other professors can rely on one textbook for almost everything.

As a general rule, though, the amount of money students are expected to spend on course materials has rapidly outpaced the rate of inflation since the ’70s. Affordability advocates point to two major factors behind this: a lack of competition in the higher education publishing industry, and the fact that professors, not students, ultimately decide which texts get assigned. Four major publishers — Pearson, Cengage, Wiley, and McGraw-Hill — control more than 80 percent of the market, according to a 2016 PIRG report. Major publishers also tend to “avoid publishing books in subject areas where their competitors have found success,” which ends up limiting professors’ options for what to assign.

Digital textbooks, especially those that come with access codes, have also contributed to rising costs. When students buy a textbook, they aren’t just paying for the binding and the pages; they’re paying for the research, editing, production, and distribution of the book. And when that book comes with an access code, they’re also paying for the development of — and, as the name suggests, for access to — all kinds of supplementary materials, from lessons to videos to homework assignments.

Access codes, the PIRG report notes, also undercut the resale market. Since the codes can only be used once, the books are essentially worthless without them. They can also prevent students from turning to other cost-saving measures like sharing a book with a classmate.

Kaitlyn Vitez, the higher education campaign director at PIRG, told me she’s met students who couldn’t afford to buy books that come with access codes, even if they knew their grades would suffer. “One student at the University of Maryland had to get a $100 access code to do her homework and couldn’t afford it, and that was 20 percent of her grade,” Vitez said. “So she calculated what grade she would have to get on everything else to make up for not being able to do her homework.”

“On a fundamental level,” Vitez said, “you shouldn’t have to pay to do homework for a class you already paid tuition for. You shouldn’t have to pay to participate.”

. . . .

Student advocates don’t expect the move toward truly affordable course materials to be led by publishers. Instead, they’re encouraging professors to adopt — and help develop — free, open source textbooks. Kharl Reynado, a senior at the University of Connecticut and the leader of PIRG’s affordable textbooks campaign, told me she’s had to pay “upward of $500” for books and access codes and has dropped courses because she couldn’t afford the costs. “I’ve had friends who spend entire paychecks on just their textbook costs in the beginning of the semester and had little money left over to cover food, gas, and sometimes, in extreme cases, rent because of it,” she said.

“We work closely with students and campus partners such as the UConn Library to promote open textbooks to different professors and educate students on their options,” she added.

The real challenge is getting professors, who are ultimately responsible for which books get assigned, to adopt the free options. Professors don’t assign books by major publishers or books with access codes because they want students to suffer — they do it because, more often than not, it’s easier.

As Vitez noted, an increasing number of universities are replacing full-time, tenured staff with adjunct professors. Adjuncts, many of whom are graduate students, are paid by the course, typically don’t receive benefits, and occasionally find out they’re teaching a class a few weeks before the semester begins. In other words, they don’t necessarily have the time or resources to spend the summer developing a lesson plan or to work alongside librarians to find quality materials that won’t come at a high cost to students.

That’s where books with access codes come in. These books come loaded with vetted, preselected supplementary material and homework assignments that can be graded online. They require a much smaller time investment from underpaid instructors.

Link to the rest at Vox

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