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State to offer discounted electronic textbooks

Sep 5, 2008  
By Katie Quaranta  

Thanks to several new University System of Ohio initiatives, Ohio college students now can purchase discounted electronic textbooks online while faculty will be rewarded for finding innovative ways to make textbooks more affordable.

Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Chancellor of the Board of Regents Eric Fingerhut this week announced a partnership with CourseSmart, a provider of electronic textbooks from the six largest commercial publishers in the country. CourseSmart offers digital textbooks at prices up to 55 percent less than those of traditional new print textbooks. Because of the partnership -- the first between a university system and CourseSmart -- Ohio students will get an additional 10 percent discount.

"The price of textbooks is often seen as a barrier to some students who want to enroll in our colleges and universities," Strickland said in a press release from the Board of Regents. "The University System of Ohio is taking these important steps to tackle the rising price of textbooks and ensure that no student is prevented from going to college because of his or her financial situation."

Getting books online and saving

Students can order these electronic textbooks by visiting a USO Web portal designed by a team from OhioLINK, the statewide library and information network of which Ohio University is a part. The site allows them access automatically if they log on from an on-campus network or asks for their name and Ohio University Personal Identification Number (PID) if entering from an off-campus site. They can search for textbooks that, once purchased, can be viewed either directly online or downloaded to their computers.

Faculty members who want to examine any of the texts on the CourseSmart site can request an online exam copy from the more than 4,000 titles available. The list of titles will continue to grow.

"They are continuing to add books to their site with a goal to have a very high percentage of print textbooks in use available in electronic form as well," said OhioLINK Executive Director Tom Sanville, who was a part of the team that negotiated with CourseSmart to make the program available throughout the state. "That is an ongoing process of expansion."    

The amount and advantage of the discount can depend on several factors. For instance, a recently published study from the Student Public Interest Research Groups, a collection of independent state-based student organizations that work to solve public interest problems, points out that the cost from CourseSmart is considerably less than half price if students factor in the resale value of the book. The study also notes that access to the digital texts expires after a set length of time -- usually 180 to 360 days after purchase -- and that students who want a more tangible copy are limited to printing only 10 pages of any textbook per session.

The USO acknowledges the pros and cons on its Web site. Sanville said the main benefit to students is really the power to decide which form of a book is best for them, monetarily and academically. For example, besides the environmental benefits, digital books provide special features, including high-speed search and electronic note-taking.

"You can annotate the book; you can make notes on it," he said. "It's just one more option, and it can be both a cost-effective and a learning-effective one for students."

He added that the amount of money saved depends on what kind of book the student needs, how much it costs at a traditional bookstore and what the resale value of the book actually is.
"Let's say a new book is typically 100 percent, a used book is typically 75 percent of the new book price and the CourseSmart book will be 50 percent of the new book price," he said. "For students buying new books, this will definitely be a cost-effective method."

Jan Maxwell,  assistant dean of collections and access at Alden Library, pointed out that students cannot always rely on being able to sell a book back at the end of a quarter. She also stressed that, while many students still prefer physical texts, electronic resources are growing in popularity.

"I think most librarians have seen more and more students being comfortable with reading things on a screen rather than a print resource, and we think that is going to continue," she said. "Students may want to make their choice based on what their thoughts are on their long-term needs for this textbook."

Student Senate President Michael Adeyanju agrees that students can readily adjust to this new technology and that this partnership demonstrates "great progress" toward addressing the problems of burgeoning textbook costs.  

"I definitely am going to try it out," he said of the CourseSmart service. "When you see people always on their cell phones and always on their iPods, it shows we are going towards a more technological age."

Faculty grants can take the concept further

Faculty members could benefit from a newly launched competitive grant and faculty award program that recognizes and rewards efforts to make learning materials more affordable.

According to the Board of Regents? release, the new University System of Ohio Textbook Affordability Grant program makes $250,000 available to faculty teams, with members from a minimum of three institutions, that develop, build and package collections of course materials offered free to students. The University System of Ohio will fund as many as five projects, granting up to $50,000 per project. Responses to the Request for Proposals issued Aug. 27 are due to the Ohio Board of Regents by Nov. 15.

Additionally, 10 faculty members will each receive a $1,000 cash award for developing course materials that pass savings along to students. Nominations for these University System of Ohio Faculty Innovator Awards are due by 5 p.m. EST on Sept. 30.

Details about both awards are posted at the USO Web site.



Related Links
USO Website http://www.uso.edu/opportunities/textbooks/index.php 

Published: Sep 5, 2008 8:06 AM  

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