The fact that the Higher Education Opportunity Act (Public Law 110-315) — otherwise known as HEOA — was signed into law last year is probably not big news to anyone. One of the parts of the bill that I have been following and commented on here in DLTJ is the textbook disclosure rules. I haven’t posted follow-up commentary here because I’ve been expecting that the U.S. Department of Education will be forthcoming with new regulations regarding the implementation of the disclosure rules. As it turns out, a sentence was added into the legislation between the time I last read it closely and when it finally was made law: “No Regulatory Authority- The Secretary shall not promulgate regulations with respect to this section.” It would appear the language of the law stands on its own.
I had the pleasure of presenting on a panel at the Ohio Student Success Assessment Summit this morning on the topic of textbooks and open educational resources. Specifically, I was talking about the plans and desires of the University System of Ohio to help faculty help students with the escalating of costs of learning materials. My talk (below and on SlideShare) gives a background of the problem in the context of the State of Ohio, principles upon which a working plan for statewide support is forming, and strategic themes
I continue to be astonished by how efficient the used textbook market has become. This week, at the end of the spring quarter at Ohio State University, a drive-thru textbook buy-back service popped up on the site of a long-closed gas station. It is a tent on a parking lot that truly does allow someone to drive through to drop off books (see the third image down). The operation is run by Budgetext, a national textbook wholesaler from Fayetteville, AR. I spoke with company representative Jerry Mohr about the service.
The sand is really starting to shift under the traditional textbook providers as the open course content movement shows signs of, well, movement. Already this year there are two events that point to shifts in how instructors and students can shortcut the complex ecosystem of textbooks as we know it today. First, Flat World Knowledge — a provider of open access course materials — launched earlier this year. Second, new legislation has been proposed in the U.S. Congress to mandate that some agencies use their funding to produce open access course materials.
Flat World Knowledge Launches
A recent issue of Nature published an article by Declan Butler called “Technology: The textbook of the future” included a paragraph about OhioLINK’s exploration of digital textbooks:
Ongoing tests of CourseSmart e-textbooks by the University System of Ohio show that they reduce costs — the average US student forks out some $900 annually on print textbooks — and students using them perform just as well as when using paper versions, says Peter Murray, deputy head of new service development at the Ohio Library and Information Network in Columbus, Ohio, which assists the University System of Ohio on the project.
At the end of last month, the Ohio Board of Regents media, in trade publications, and in numerous blog postings. Enough time has passed now that word has gotten out, and I won’t be taking any of the chancellor’s thunder about the project. I did the back-end development work for the portal and wrote this document as an introduction to the project for our development team and anyone else interested about the project.the . The service has been talked about in the
Earlier this week U.S. Senate passed its own version of the “College Opportunity and Affordability Act of 2007″ (H.R.4137 to amend and extend the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes) by unanimous consent (hence no recorded vote) and appointed members of a conference committee to resolve differences with the U.S. House version. The conference committee report was published yesterday1. This afternoon the House completed a roll-call vote approving the conference version.
If I remember my civics class correctly, the bill now goes to the president for a signature. The conference report had to be approved by the Senate, which it did late Thursday night. Although the White House previously opposed the bill, the Associate Press reports that .
Colorado Community College System (CCCS) signed an agreement with Pearson Education for flat-rate access to Pearson textbook content online. News of this comes by way of a link left by Lorcan Dempsey in a comment to an earlier DLTJ entry that pointed to a blog entry by Michael Cairns talking about yesterday’s Wall Street Journal article about custom textbooks, which in turn pointed to a blog posting by Alison Pendergast excerpting a Chronicle of Higher Education Wired Campus story about this agreement. (Whew! It was a long trail, but well worth it!) Key points in the agreement:
Who knew the college textbook marketplace could be so complex? The agents in this ecosystem and their interests are so intertwined that as a whole it poses a massive amount of inertia for those who attempt to change the marketplace. I’ve been involved for about a year with an effort to change the textbook ecosystem for Ohio college students, and I am amazed at the complexity with each new layer of the onion that is peeled back. I thought it worthwhile to document my findings here and ask what insights others have.
There has been an increasing focus on the cost of textbooks in the mainstream media this year, and I don’t think it is the case that I’m just becoming more sensitized to it. Take for example the editorial from the Washington Post on February 7th. The second paragraph succinctly describes the issues being debated most often:
There are several reasons that textbooks are so costly. For one, even though there have been no major advances in fields such as calculus and elementary physics in decades or even centuries, publishers still churn out new editions of textbooks on these subjects every three or four years. The changes are typically superficial, but they prevent students from being able to purchase used, older editions. Publishers also frequently bundle unwanted additional materials such as CD-ROMs and study guides with textbooks. Professors rarely assign these extra materials, which drive up costs, and students often cannot sell the books back to bookstores once the shrink-wrap has been removed. Publishers can get away with these shenanigans because there’s a fundamental disconnect in the textbook marketplace: The people paying for the books (the students) are not the ones choosing them (the teachers).