A large number of students will be winding down another school year next month and the question still needs to be asked: where are the wholly digital textbooks that have been predicted? Futuristic promises have been made about classrooms where there are no books and college campuses where students shun the overloaded backpacks in favor of a slim tablet tucked under their arms, but that reality hasn’t come to pass yet.
Companies like CourseSmart have been working since 2007 on breaking down a lot of the obstacles that are keeping e-reading from taking off in the educational arena. Jill Ambrose spoke to GoodeReader about how digitizing can work and how open source content can make it more widespread.
“There are questions about the future of getting content to faculty and students, as well as what’s in the content that makes it effective,” said Ambrose. “Our mission is to expand access to all users at a lower cost. Open source can really validate that free content.”
Despite a recent Book Industry Study Group survey that found that digital textbooks are slowly being adopted, CourseSmart offers more than 90% of the core content that faculties use today and they are able to sell or rent ebook editions of textbooks for often 60% less than the price of a print text. This mission is to make textbooks more accessible, both in terms of price and in meeting the needs of students with disabilities, through digital.
CourseSmart looks not only at the price of textbooks, acknowledging that there is an inherent cost in the creation of the text by author experts over several years, but also is focused on making sure that the open source content is academically relevant and sustainable over a period of time.
“There’s an academic lens that’s important for the content. There’s always a very specific learning outcome that needs to be put into place before the content is created and we’re seeing a movement towards companies hiring instructional designers. One of the things we want to make sure of when institutions are looking at open source content is that the provided content is high quality and will produce the desired learning outcomes. In this whole movement, quality content has to happen and there has to be someone responsible for that.”
One educational arena that has been slow to adopt digital textbooks has been the public school sector for grades K through twelve, partly due to the technology required to utilize the textbooks, but also because of the mandated adoption of specific texts at the school system level, if not the state level. But the recent numbers from the BISG indicate that at the higher education level, both faculty and students are at least showing an interest in supplementing course materials with digital.
“The whole concept of academic freedom is really important and the faculty member makes the decision on content, so open source is very valid as a supplement. It will probably exist in some form or another for a long time. It’s starting today and will evolve.”