Pilots try to lower textbook costs

Pilot projects to lower textbook costs — including e-books, rentals and open education resources (OER) — are underway at colleges and universities across the nation, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Lynn University bought iPad minis for incoming freshmen and plans to offer nine introductory courses through Apple’s digital course manager, iTunes U.

“Essentially, our goal is to get rid of all textbooks in our core curriculum,” said Chris Boniforti, the university’s chief information officer. “Without getting myself in too much trouble, I’d like for that to happen next year.”

Given Apple’s tendency to update its tablets about once a year, Boniforti said students will be able to upgrade to the newest model once their iPad has turned two years old. Upperclassmen interested in the courses can also rent an iPad for $100 — less than the cost of the textbook. If a student breaks the iPad, whether by accident or not, the university will repair it and issue a rental in the meantime.

Other universities are trying open-source textbooks, such as Rice University’s OpenStax College, a nonprofit publisher, and the University of Minnesota’s open textbook catalog.

Online completion gap is narrowing

The completion gap between online and traditional courses is narrowing, reports a Instructional Technology Council survey on Trends in eLearning at community colleges.  Nearly half of colleges surveyed said online students are as successful as students in face-to-face courses, reports Fred Lokken, dean of the WebCollege at Truckee Meadows Community College.

Distance education enrollments at community colleges continue to grow, with a move to “blended” or “hybrid” courses. However, the rate of growth has slowed, concludes the survey, which was released at the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges in San Francisco.

While community colleges are “exploring ways to use massive open online courses and open educational resources in their curriculums,” many distance education administrators remain “skeptical,” reports Scott Jaschik on Inside Higher Ed.

Both MOOCs and OERs have been promoted as ways to help cash-strapped community colleges educate more students, many of whom themselves are cash-strapped.

On MOOCs, the survey found that only 1 percent of community colleges are offering course credits or certificates for MOOC completion. While another 44 are “beginning to explore options” that might incorporate MOOC content into programs, 42 percent reported that they had no plans to do so.
“As would be expected with something so new, campuses are cautious in their approach. Many community colleges are skeptical that a large-enrollment solution is appropriate for campuses that believe in smaller, more personalized instruction,” says a report on the survey.

Only 36 percent believed open educational resources would have a “significant impact” at community colleges. Two-thirds of respondents said faculty members weren’t aware of OERs and lacked the time to locate and evaluate them. Many also worried about the credibility of some resources.

MOOC mockers don’t understand the potential of online learning, writes Geoff Cain, director of academic technology at Humboldt State, here and here.

State U Online, a new report by Education Sector and the New America Foundation, outlines five steps to implementing successful distance education programs.

College textbook bubble will burst

The college textbook bubble will burst when the “open educational resources” movement breaks the textbook cartel, writes Mark Perry on AEIdeas.

Since 1978, the cost of education books and supplies (mostly college textbooks) has increased by 812 percent, his chart shows. That’s much more than the very high inflation rate for medical services or new homes and way more than the 250 percent rise in the Consumer Price Index. It’s “unsustainable,” Perry writes.

Never Pay Sticker Price for a Textbook Again, writes Slate.

My husband used to write college engineering textbooks. He hasn’t updated his old book or written a new one because he doesn’t think he can earn enough to justify his time. In part, that’s because publishers charge so much for textbooks that students are refusing to buy them. They share, use out-of-date editions, buy pirated copies online or try to get by without a book. He’s looked at writing an online textbook, but the money doesn’t work that way either.

He’d like to write a new, shorter book that leaves out the skills students no longer need and includes higher-level skills that could get them their first job. But it’s an enormous amount of work. Professors would have to update their courses. And students won’t buy it if it’s too expensive.

Who will write college textbooks in the brave new “open” world? Maybe young professors who want to make their mark. Maybe the whole idea of a single textbook is obsolete.

Industry attacks open courseware

Software publishers are trying to kill federally funded open-source learning materials, writes Amy Laitinen on The Quick and the Ed.

As part of the $2 billion in job training funds for community colleges, the feds required colleges to make learning materials “available to everyone in the world, free, under a Creative Commons intellectual property license,” wrote Ed Sector’s Kevin Carey. He called the idea “one of the most innovative federal higher-education programs ever conceived.”

The first $500 million in grants were awarded at the end of September. But community colleges could be required not to share their job-training materials with others — or even to develop courseware.

As a result of lobbying by the Software & Information Industry Association (SIIA), Laitinen writes, a provision in the draft House FY12 Labor, Health, and Human Services appropriations bill effectively bans the use of federal funds to develop learning materials.

“SEC. 124. None of the funds made available by this Act for the Department of Labor may be used to develop new courses, modules, learning materials, or projects in carrying out education or career job training grant programs unless the Secretary of Labor certifies, after a comprehensive market-based analysis, that such courses, modules, learning materials, or projects are not otherwise available for purchase or licensing in the marketplace or under development for students who require them to participate in such education or career job training grant programs.”

SIIA’s board is “acting less like innovative software industry leaders and more like old-school publishers,” Laitinen writes.

“Private companies will be able to repackage, improve upon, and sell the materials they like, as long as they acknowledge the original developers,” wrote Carey in The Quiet Revolution in Open Learning. Apparently, they’d rather squash the competition.