The University of Wisconsin (UW) Madison campus and five other major universities announced plans this week to try buying electronic textbooks in bulk, an experiment that officials say could help rein in burdensome textbook costs and bring eTextbooks into the mainstream.
The university will try it on a small scale at first, in five courses involving about 600 students at the start of the school’s spring semester.
At UW-Madison, students will spend an average of about $1,140 on books and supplies this year, up from $680 in 2001-02.
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“That’s one of the big motivators behind doing this pilot and evaluating this more broadly, for wider adoption by the Madison campus,” said Brian Rust, communications director for the UW-Madison Division of Information Technology. “We’re hoping it will not only make texts more accessible in terms of being on a number of different devices, but also more accessible financially.”
Rust said the pilot program will cost UW-Madison about $20,000.
The pilot is led by Internet2, a higher education research network, and will allow the universities to pool their buying power and theoretically negotiate discounted prices from the textbook companies.
The others schools are University of California at Berkeley, University of Virginia, Cornell University, University of Minnesota, and Ohio State University.
During the pilot, students will be able to download the books for free using software called Courseload. They will be able to access the books from any device with an internet browser.
In the future, students might pay a course-materials fee to the university, but likely at a cheaper price than the cost of print textbooks, Rust said.