Textbooks and Open Educational Resources

Professor Alain Bourget of California State University-Fullerton is defending his action of choosing a cheaper option textbook for his students instead of the $180 one imposed by his department. He says the $75 book he choose, supplemented with free online resources, is just as effective as the department-chosen book.

According to a writer for Inside Higher Ed, Scott Jaschik, the case is “being closely watched by advocates of open educational resources (free online materials, commonly called OER) who see the dispute as a sign they need to challenge not only traditional textbooks but traditional methods of selecting textbooks.”

Nicole Allen, director of open education at SPARC (Scholarly Publishing and Academic Resources Coalition) says this case shows how the marketplace often evolves faster than current campus practices. She says, “Ten years ago long-term departmental adoptions were considered good for affordability since it allows a strong local used-book market to develop. Now it can work against students by perpetuating the traditional publishing industry’s stranglehold on the market, which keeps new innovations like OER out.”

I would think that if a department considers the professor qualified enough to teach the course, then that professor should also be qualified enough to choose the book from which to teach. Professor Bourget says he is frustrated by constant releases of new editions, making it difficult for his students to buy used books. He simply wants to help his students, who “aren’t rich” he says, get the same level of education at a more affordable price.

There are ethical questions in play here besides price, though. The authors of the $180 book are also the chair and vice-chair of the mathematics department at the university. While the school has said that the authors did not participate in the decision to use the book, it still seems odd that they would choose this book instead of an identified cheaper option for their students.

David Wiley, leader of the Open Education Group at BYU who works with schools and colleges on using OER states that failure to use less expensive options “when department leaders are benefiting financially from the status quo, raises ethical questions.”

This may just be another sign that the status quo of educational publishing (and selection) needs to be revised to be as flexible as the current age.

By: Briana Farr



The Rising Costs of College Textbooks

Image result for rising cost

by Kelly Fleshman

Almost every college student is aware of, and burdened by, the high costs of textbooks. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, textbook prices have seen an increase of 1,041% since 1977. As we learned in our Week 4 Learning Unit (Publishing Audiences), students are captive customers and have limited options.

In attempts to avoid the higher costs of textbooks, some students are renting their textbooks from companies such as Chegg or Barnes and Noble, using e-book versions for the lower cost, or not buying the required textbooks at all. Using these methods may be more cost effective, but students have a more difficult time being able to highlight and take margin notes or are missing out on assigned readings completely.

Perhaps, all of this is about to change for the better. In October, a bill to potentially reduce the costs for college textbooks was reintroduced to the US Senate (the Affordable College Textbook Act). The bill would establish a grant program that would support the open use of college textbooks and students would have free access to those materials.

The bill would also potentially force publishers to rethink their textbook pricing structure and requirements for educational materials, which could be a possible game-changer for academic publishers.

Print Continues to Rule the World of Higher Education

By Kate Leboff

Half of Americans own an e-reading device, up from the 30% that owned one in 2013; in 2012, President Obama wanted to get e-textbooks into every classroom by 2017; and Florida lawmakers have mandated that public schools convert textbooks to digital versions. Despite the surge of technology, e-books, and “digital natives,” in recent years, evidence published in 2015 shows that, at the very least, the vast majority of students at colleges and universities around the world still prefer print to digital.

A slew of news reports have announced that after extensive studies and surveys of college students are in favor of reading their assigned readings – textbooks, journals, novels etc. – for courses in print versus on screen.  One survey of 500 active college students, taken by Direct Textbook, a comprehensive textbook price comparison service, found that 72% of students prefer print textbooks to e-books.  A study at the University of Washington found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks, even when those books were offered free of charge. I can sympathize. When purchasing the textbooks for the first two courses of the GW Publishing Program, I decided to purchase  the print version of the title, The Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, despite it being offered online for free.

In January of this year, Naomi S. Baron published Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, in which she discusses “how technology is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read. Digital reading is increasingly popular. Reading onscreen has many virtues… Yet, Baron argues, the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks.” – from the Oxford University Press.

In her book, Baron also completed a survey of more than 300 college students in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Slovakia, finding a nearly university preference for the tangible textbook versus its digital version. A startling 92% of students said they concentrated and comprehended more when reading a hard copy versus on a cell phone, tablet, e-reader, or computer. However, it seems that the format and medium on which these college-age digital natives are reading for pleasure, “light reading,” does not matter as much. In children and adolescents, though, it seems that reading print versus digital books is on the rise as 65% of 6 to 17 year olds would prefer “real” books to e-books, an increase of almost 17% from 2012.

In 2014, 87% of textbook sales were print editions while only 9% of the market were comprised of e-book purchases. With the leftover 4% being made up of file sharing.

The biggest issues, as outlined by Baron in her book, are students getting distracted, finding themselves multitasking and taking breaks to surf the internet more often, and the eye strain, headaches, and physical discomfort that accompanies reading on screen for hours at a time. 90% found themselves multitasking when reading onscreen than those reading the hard copy versions.

Some other reasons that have been cited as to why students prefer print textbooks to e-books included: Print textbooks are easier to read, they like the physical effort of annotating what they are reading, some print textbooks are cheaper – buying used, e-books are difficult to navigate and bookmark, they do not require internet access, professors do not allow laptops or tablets in class, the availability of e-books can be limited, and students seem to often print out the pages of online and e-book readings anyways.

The students who like to read digitally versus having the tactile, physical experience referenced the fact that e-books are often cheaper, are lighter and searchable, are environmentally friendly, e-readers allow adjustable print size and brightness, text can be converted to audio, and these can often be used with apps.

In the end, it seems that, at least for now, print textbooks rule the world of higher education.

One student, Cooper Nordquist, a student studying political science at American University, commented that, “[he] couldn’t imagine reading Tocqueville, [the 900 plus-page, “Democracy in America”], or understanding him electronically. That would be just awful.”

Another commented that “You just get distracted. It’s like if I finish a paragraph, i’ll go on Tumblr, and then three hours later you’re still not done with reading.”







Is Electronic Publishing the Future for the Education Market?

By Sherrie Wilkolaski

Publishers in the education market are looking to electronic publishing and other digital educational tools as a way to improve the learning process and manipulate their educational text. The printed textbook is starting to look a bit old-fashioned when you compare it to high-tech tablet in the classroom. Leading educational publishers are taking big steps to utilize technology when it comes to publishing. In early September, BookBusiness reported that, “Hachette Livre, the third-largest trade and educational publisher in the world, announced a partnership with leading adaptive learning company Knewton”.

The collaboration between Hachette Livre and Knewton is a step in the right direction and with both companies being industries leaders in what they do, I look forward to seeing what they can do together to improve the future of education. We’re living in a world where electronic information is free-flowing in all areas of life. Why should the education process be any different? As a current student who was looking for an online learning alternative, I was surprised to learn during my quest for an online graduate program, that more schools were not offering what I was looking for. There are many schools who are doing an excellent job at utilizing a virtual and electronic classroom, such as The George Washington University, but still there is room for growth.

Only days before the announcement of the Hachette Livre and Knewton partnership, McGraw Hill Education revealed they will be going public. They reach both the K-12 markets and higher education, and per the Insider Trading Report, they noted, McGraw Hill Education, “also makes products for specific needs of companies, academic institutions, libraries and hospitals.” They will be focusing on “developing educational content technology” and their announcement is another indicator that the educational publishing is looking to electronic publishing and technology as the future.

What does all this electronic publishing mean for students? Will electronic publishing ultimately create a better leaning environment? Will new learning technologies replace the textbook and provide a less expensive alternative? The overall electronic publishing market is still a new experience and collaboration between educators and students, will help to guide publishers and technology experts to create a positive learning environment.  Only time will tell.

To read an additional article published by the Washington Post about a GWU student’s textbook experience, check out the article, “How college students can save money on pricey textbooks” by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel.

Could book industry shortsightedness be to blame for hampering e-book access to blind students?

By Tiffany Arnold

It was recently reported that New York City school officials postponed a $30 million student e-book deal with Amazon due to concerns that its e-books aren’t fully accessible to blind students, adding to the growing list of shortcomings and challenges the industry faces when trying to define—and police—rights management in the digital age.

It’s also an indication that the industry could be doing more to make e-book technology accessible to everyone.

The New York Daily News reports that the city’s school board was set to vote on this e-book deal back in August, but the board held off after Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind (NFB) threatened to protest the deal.  The organization’s chief complaint was that Amazon’s e-books aren’t fully accessible to students who are visually impaired.

This was something I never considered to be possible, considering the proliferation of audio books.

Our recent in-class discussion about book production touched on some of the issues those seeking to produce physical textbooks face when catering to blind students, and why e-books aren’t always the easy solution. But reading more about this actually angered me a bit. It made me realize how much I take for granted every time I read books on a digital device.

In researching for this post, I came across a Wired article published last year. This passage struck a particular nerve:

“For more than a decade, the visually-impaired have been locked in an excruciatingly slow and circuitous battle against US copyright laws. And it’s left the visually-impaired with few options but to hack their way around digital barriers—just for the simple pleasure of reading a book.”

My initial thinking was why is this even a thing? Why would anyone oppose making e-books accessible to blind people.

The truth is these people really do exists.

It seems some of the recent rancor stems from what happened back in 2009, when Amazon released a newer version of its Kindle device that came with an “experimental” text-to-speech feature. Not everybody liked this feature — which I found surprising.

“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” Paul Aiken, then the executive director of the Authors Guild, said of Amazon’s use of the feature in a Wall Street Journal article published shortly after the device’s release. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.” (See: New Kindle Audio Feature Causes a Stir)

Marc Maurer, who was president of the NFB at the time, refuted the claim that such technology infringed on copyright laws and said the Authors Guild’s stance was “harmful to blind people” in a statement released that same year.

Meanwhile, text-to-speech functionality eventually devolved and is now a mixed bag. Blind users often seek apps as go-betweens, but they still may not be getting all the features.

Ever since, the NFB has filed lawsuits against educational institutions that attempt to deploy Amazon devices as a means of distributing textbooks in e-book formats, arguing as they did in the latest NYC case, that such books aren’t fully accessible to those who are blind.

Talk about something that is broken.

The Accessible Technology Coalition, as with a few other organizations, offers a primer tech-accessible devices for the visually impaired at its website, ATCoalition.org. A volley of letters between the NFB and the New York City public school board suggest that school officials are open to working together to find ways to make e-books accessible for all its students. (The correspondences have been posted on the NFB’s website; here’s a link to one of the more recent letters)

But it seems it shouldn’t have to be this way. It makes me wonder whether there’s some sort of law that could compel e-book formats to be made accessible. It just seems like something needs to change.

Academics are being hoodwinked into writing books nobody can buy

How to books get into academic libraries? Photograph: Bob Handelman/Alamy
How to books get into academic libraries? Photograph: Bob Handelman/Alamy

By Stacy Masucci

A scary piece in The Guardian speaks to the value of publisher mission statements.

This article describes the experiment of an anonymous professor who had repeatedly been contacted by a publisher to write a book for them. After seeing bad experiences for his colleagues, he finally decided to play along and see what the company had to offer.

What he experienced was tarnishing to academic publishing. This particular publishing house specializes in high volume (75 titles per AE yearly), high price ($100-$200 per title), low sales (~300 units to libraries only) and the books published generally disappear to a storeroom in the library after having been buried and unseen on the library shelves for a year or so.

Even worse was the acquisition editor conversation that is described in detail in the article. It shows a lack of interest in 1) the author and his research; 2) the field; and 3) the success of the title. Three very important factors of academic publishing.

I can only wonder what the mission statement of this company is, if they even have one, and if so, was it was ever shared with the editor?