Colleges taking a team approach to eTextbooks

Six in 10 students said in a recent survey that they forgo buying required books because textbooks are too pricey.

Reining in exorbitant textbook costs is no longer a campus-by-campus venture: A unified approach, powered by EDUCAUSE and the Internet2 consortium’s NET+ cloud-based collaborative purchasing program, could make low-cost electronic textbooks available now, ed-tech leaders hope.

Colleges experimenting with digital textbooks can take months—sometimes years—to negotiate with publishers before their school’s modest eBook program is introduced to students now paying upwards of $1,100 a year for books.

This fall, campus technology leaders will closely track the results of an expansive eTextbook pilot program ranging across 28 campuses, creating what many in higher education believe could be a model for quickly bringing low-cost textbook options to students who, in some cases, have stopped buying required texts because they cannot afford the books.

The participating schools will receive deep discounts on textbook orders, because the colleges will ensure that every student uses the textbook’s free electronic version. Guaranteed participation in the digital textbook effort makes this program different from myriad others tried on campuses across the country.

The pilot is run through Internet2’s NET+ Services, which negotiates with companies on behalf of its member campuses. Students and faculty will use McGraw-Hill Education eBooks along with an eReader and annotation software program made by Courseload, allowing class content to be viewed through a college’s learning management system.

Nik Osborne, head of Indiana University’s eText initiative, said roping many colleges and universities into one pilot program would accelerate the adoption of electronic textbooks, a decidedly slow process that has frustrated advocates of low-cost textbook alternatives.

“There’s no need for each institution to go figure it out on their own,” Osborne said during an Internet2 member meeting, adding that it took IU seven months to negotiate with publishers before the university could unveil its eText push. “Why not learn from other schools rather than reinventing the wheel? … We don’t have that much time in higher education as a whole. We have a very perishable window right now.”

Campus IT chiefs said joining Internet2’s established eText infrastructure would bring a functional eBook pilot program to a campus in less than two months—a fraction of the time many colleges have spent working out the legal ins and outs of transitioning from traditional texts to electronic versions.

“Efficient markets have informed buyers and sellers, and this multi-university pilot is a big leap forward for institutions to better understand how they can shape the market during the transition to digital,” said Brad Wheeler, vice president for information technology and chief information officer at Indiana University.

James Hilton, vice president and chief information officer at the University of Virginia, said the national eTextbook pilot initiative has drawn interest from faculty members at his university.

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