November 28, 2015

What students spend on textbooks and how it affects open textbooks

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Avoid bookstore line-ups - adopt an online, open textbook Image:  The Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Avoid bookstore line-ups – adopt an online, open textbook
Image: The Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Hill, P. (2015) Bad Data Can Lead To Bad Policy: College students don’t spend $1,200+ on textbooks, e-Literate, November 8

Caulfield, M. (2015) Asking What Students Spend on Textbooks Is the Wrong Question, Hapgood, November 9

Just wanted to draw your attention to two really interesting and useful blog posts about the cost of textbooks.

First thanks to Phil Hill for correcting what I and many other have been saying: that students are spending more than $1,000 a year on textbooks. It turns out that what students are actually spending is around $530 – $640 (all figures in this post are in U.S. dollars and refer to U.S. post-secondary education.) Furthermore, student spending on textbooks has actually declined (slightly) over the last few years (probably as a result of increasing tuition fees – something has to give).

Mike Caulfield however points out that the actual cost of recommended textbooks is over $1,000 a year (or more accurately, between $968 and $1221, depending on the mix of rental and newly purchased books), and that this is the figure that counts, because if students are spending less, then they are putting their studies at risk by not using recommended texts.

For instance, a report by consumer advocacy group U.S. PIRG found that the cost of textbooks has jumped 82% since 2002. As a result, 65% of about 2,000 students say they have opted out of buying (or renting) a required textbook because of the price. According to the survey, 94% of the students who had skipped buying textbooks believed it could hurt their performance in class. Furthermore, 48% of the students said that they had altered which classes they take due to textbook costs, either taking fewer classes or different classes.

More importantly, students and significantly their families do not look at the cost of textbooks in isolation. They also take into account tuition fees and the cost of living, especially if they are studying away from home. So they are likely to consider what they are expected to spend on textbooks rather than what they will actually spend when deciding on post-secondary education. The high cost of textbooks is just another factor that acts as a deterrent for many low income families.

Whether you take the actual expenditure of around $600 a year  per student or the required spending of $1,220, having open textbooks available not only results in very real savings for students, but also will have a more important psychological effect in encouraging some students and parents to consider post-secondary education who might not do so otherwise. Getting the methodology of costing textbooks right is important if we are to measure the success of open textbooks, but whichever way you look at it, open textbooks are the right way to go.

Lastly, if you are encouraging your students to become digitally literate, I suggest that you ask them to read the two posts, which, as well as dealing with an issue in which your students will have a major interest, are paragons of well-researched writing, and above all courteous and respectful in their differences.

Update on British Columbia’s open textbook project

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Why use open textbooks? 2

BCcampus has just announced that as of October 30, 2015, it has now made available 23 new ‘Common Core’ open textbooks for the Province of B.C.’s Trades Apprenticeship Programs.

This brings the total number of open textbooks in the BCcampus project to 136, covering both core university and college programs. All these books are available for free downloading under a Creative Commons license, and are offered in various e-book formats free of charge, or as print on demand books available at the cost of printing.

BCcampus estimates that as of 24 November, 2015, the project has resulted in estimated savings for students of between $927,200 and $1,204,762. The calculation is based on 9,275 students across the 19 participating institutions who have adopted open textbooks. The calculation is based on two categories for open textbook adoption: a Displacing Adoption that sees faculty using an open textbook solution to replace a resource students would have had to pay for, and a Supplementary Adoption where the open textbook is used within the course, but does not replace the commercial textbook. More detailed statistics on the project, such as which books have been most adopted, and what are the most popular formats for downloading, can be accessed here.

BCcampus also has agreements with the governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the Yukon, and has recently partnered with Campus Manitoba to assist them in their roll out of open textbooks within Manitoba. While open textbooks can be used anywhere in the world, the reviews of books in the collection have thus far been restricted to B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan and Yukon faculty. The new agreement with Manitoba will allow Manitoba faculty to contribute their knowledge and expertise to the growing body of open textbook reviews, strengthening the collection of open textbooks for everyone.

These statistics do not include my own open, online textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age, which is not part of the BCcampus, government-funded open textbook project, but which is housed on the BCcampus open textbook server and BCcampus provided essential technical support and help with the book’s production and delivery. To date Teaching in a Digital Age has been downloaded 13,679 times since its publication in April this year and is also available in print, on demand, at cost ($17-$53 a copy, depending on greyscale or colour version). It has already been translated into Vietnamese, and is currently being translated into French by Contact North, Ontario, and into Chinese by the Central China Radio and Television University, Beijing.

To find an Open Textbook, or find more information about the BCcampus project, please see the BCcampus OpenEd website.

University of Central Florida introduces online adaptive learning

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Image: Orlando Sentinel

Image: extract from Orlando Sentinel’s video of UCF’s adaptive learning program for nursing

Russon, G. (2015) UCF offers high-tech homework tailored to students, Orlando Sentinel, November 23

This article presents a short written account and a video of the adaptive learning program being introduced at the University of Central Florida (which is one of the pioneers of blended learning). It is being used particularly in large classes to personalize the learning.

There’s not much detail in this article, and the program is in its early stages, but it is useful to know that UCF is experimenting with adaptive learning, given its long history of carefully evaluating its online learning initiatives.

Recording of webinar on choosing modes of delivery

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What makes face-to-face teaching pedagogically unique - if anything?

What makes face-to-face teaching pedagogically unique – if anything?

This morning I gave my third webinar in the Contact North series based on my online, open textbook, Teaching in a Digital Age. There were 95 participants from 16 different countries.

In this webinar, which focused on Chapter 9 of Teaching in a Digital Age, I discussed with participants:

  • the continuum of technology-based learning and its conceptual and practical usefulness;
  • the key factors to consider when choosing appropriate modes of delivery;
  • how to move to blended/hybrid learning;
  • identifying the unique educational benefits of the campus compared to online learning.

A recording of the webinar, including discussion and participants’ comments, can be accessed here:

The next webinar, on quality in online and blended learning, will be at 1.00 pm EST, Tuesday, January 12, 2016. There will be a final, fifth webinar on the future impact of open educational resources on higher/post-secondary education later in 2016 (date to be announced).

For more details, and to access recordings of the two previous webinars, go to:

Low-cost online courses in film and media studies: do they work?

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Dustin Hoffman 2

Alexander, I. (2015) Over 30,000 students took these online film and media courses Film Industry Network, November 17

I haven’t been following Udemy, the former MOOC provider which has now moved to offering more vocational online courses, but I was interested in this article, which lists the 10 most popular online courses offered in film and media studies.  Udemy offers a number of these courses, but it is also facing strong competition from Masterclass, another provider of low cost, not-for-credit, online courses.

The average cost of a film and media studies program at a university in the USA is around $30,000. Udemy is offering courses in this domain from $300 downwards, some as little as $10 as promotional courses. However, this excludes the cost of the necessary equipment, which the article estimates at around $5,000.

Nevertheless there are huge savings to be made by going for these very low cost online courses. For instance, in the Masterclass series, you can learn acting from Dustin Hoffman, or tennis with Serena Williams, for as little as $90, through five hours of video lessons.

Most of the Udemy lessons on these courses are very short videos (less than six minutes each), although there are lots (50 in Udemy’s Facebook Marketing course, for example). Courses range in length of study, but are mainly in the range of two to ten hours each. Udemy offers a certificate for successful completion of these courses.


I have mixed feelings about these offerings. I can see that for people who want to dabble in the field or want to top up on their knowledge of a particular topic, such as Twitter marketing, or are interested in film or media production as a hobby, these courses are extremely good value. In particular, the Masterclass courses seem an excellent deal.

However, it’s hard to see how this would qualify anyone to work professionally in the field. There is no feedback from or interaction with the instructor, and no quality assessment of what has been learned.

So as always with MOOCs and their variations, there are large numbers of people who will get something they value from such courses. However, to pretend that such programs will enable people to get a well-paid, professional job in film and media on these qualifications alone is highly misleading. So it all depends on how they are marketed. Udemy walks quite close to the line on this.

However, I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has taken these courses. What was your motivation? Were you satisfied? What would you recommend to others thinking of taking such courses?