Thursday, May 17, 2012

Q&A: The Future Textbook Will Merge With All Other Learning Content

May 14, 2012  / Sarah Cargill

While the Obama administration challenges schools to embrace digital textbooks, the University of Phoenix, which has been ahead of the curve for nearly a decade, models ways that institutions can license and provide affordable digital textbooks to its students. The university currently has about 1,800 textbooks licensed by its students from four of the world’s largest publishers, including Pearson, McGraw-Hill, John Wiley & Sons, and Cengage. David Bickford, the Vice President of Academic Affairs for University of Phoenix, joins us today to discuss the challenges, benefits, and method behind its digital textbook program.

Q:  When did you first make the decision to switch to digital textbooks? What motivated this switch?

We began discussing the transition in 2001, and completed the transition over the next few years. [snip]. Digital content allowed us to level the playing field, ensuring that all members of our academic community would enjoy the same level of access regardless of location or modality of instruction.

Also, we observed the constantly rising costs in relation to course materials for our students and wanted to find ways we could be helpful in that regard. We believed the big breakthrough for our students and our organization was not necessarily the shift from print to digital, but from individual purchase decisions to collectively licensing textbooks on behalf of individual students. [snip].

Q: Did you receive any push back from instructors or students?

As with any change, we encountered some resistance. We listened to our students and faculty and made adjustments based on their feedback. [snip].

Q: Have you faced any other challenges with the shift?

With some textbooks, securing digital rights to all of the content remains a struggle. While the ownership of the text itself is usually clear, sometimes the images contained within any given book are owned by myriad parties, making it difficult to obtain 100 percent clearance.[snip].

Q: What steps did you take to make the shift?

We phased in the digital textbooks gradually over several years and hired a dedicated resource to supervise the rollout. [snip].

Q: What sort of infrastructure was needed for students and instructors to make the switch to digital textbooks (technology, tech support, policies, expectations, etc.)?

Since we currently host digital textbooks on our own infrastructure, we had to upgrade our existing data center and add additional facilities to ensure backup coverage. [snip].

Q: What have you seen as the major benefits of digital textbooks?

The main benefit is that our students and faculty have the materials they need in a highly available format and at a good price. [snip].

Q: How do you think digital textbooks are changing the way we research, write, and more?

The digital textbook of tomorrow will not be so much adjunct to the course, but will instead merge with the course so that it will be hard to tell when one is reading the textbook, learning from ancillary content, completing assignments, or engaging in discussions with the instructor and classmate.

Q: Is University of Phoenix looking into OER as an option to drive down the cost of texts for students even further?

We continue to experiment with new models of content distribution and delivery, including open educational resources.

Q: How can other schools and universities create partnerships to license digital textbooks from publishers?

Colleges and universities would do well to find ways to aggregate buying power while still respecting academic freedom. [snip].

Q: How do you see the role of publishers evolving in the education market with digital textbooks?

Publishers need to realize that sometimes what educators seek is not their titles, but their content. This means there will have to be more openness to disaggregated content with costs broken down into smaller units. [snip].

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