Ohio’s Digital Textbook Project Webinar Summary

Today I attended the webinar sponsored by the Ohio Board of Regents regarding Ohio’s digital textbook project.   Speakers included: Darlene McCoy, Associate Vice Chancellor, Division of Affordability and Efficiency, University System of Ohio; Dr. Steve Acker, Research Director, eTextOhio Project; Dr. Shu Z. Schiller, Assistant Professor of Information Systems at Wright State University; and Eric Frank, President and Co-Founder, Flat World Knowledge.

Here are some notes I took from the webinar:

Steve Acker, Research Director, eTextOhio Project – Improving the education of those in the state  (of Ohio) is our mission and we hope to graduate 200,000 students in the next 10 years.

Steve provided a brief history of Ohio’s Digital Textbook Project which includes:

  • April 2009 – Textbook affordability summit convened.  Several students stated their financial hardships regarding the purchase of textbooks, many were spending as much if not more on textbooks than tuition.  Several students indicated the need to drop out of school due to the high costs of education and the need to work more to pay for education.
  • Nov. 2009 – Textbook affordability strategic planning.  A group was convened in Ohio to discuss the issues raised at the affordability summit and come up with a plan for Ohio’s future.
  • April 2010 – Ohio Digital Bookshelf Organizational Meeting (Created NING).
  • Aug/Sept 2010 – 30 pilot schools are testing a psychology textbook with options from 5 different publishers.  Faculty agreed to add a statement about the access to digital learning materials on their syllabus.  The process is in full swing and data will be collected. Over the next several months they will look at the engagement, efficacy, and affordability of the project.  Future plans include going beyond psychology to include business, life sciences and either chemistry, economics, or statistics for year 2 pilot textbook project.

Ohio’s Le-Roi Model – learning return on investment model

  • Year 1 – incremental change to traditional model
  • Year 2 – engage OER (FlatWorld)
  • Year 3 – introduce personal learning environment – core collection of modular content, learning style learning objects and self selected materials – faculty autonomy and student choice.

Eric Frank, President and Co-Founder, Flat World Knowledge

Eric started with the question, how did we get to the $200 textbook?  We have arrived at a substantial value gap with students on one side (less family income, more tech savvy) and a product that keeps getting more expensive.  He discussed a chart showing a 20 year period viewing the consumer price index (rate of inflation) vs. the rate of inflation for college tuition and textbooks, where tuition and textbooks are rising at a much higher rate than general inflation (10% per year price increase on textbooks). Students in 2-year public colleges found that 72% of college expenses were spent on college textbooks (DOE stats from FY03-04).  As a result, students can’t afford their textbooks and it is causing a generation of dropouts.  Eric described a value gap meeting the internet – where the student searches the internet for an alternative to the expensive textbook (used books, international edition, students creating scanned/illegal PDFs and transferring) and is spending less on the new textbook.  This of course raises the question, how can we preserve revenue for publishers ?   The response from publishers – customize and bundle for a specific class (university specific) and create new editions at a much faster pace.  This scenario isn’t effective for anyone involved – authors, faculty, students, or publishers.  Eric’s proposed solution – open textbooks.

Open Textbooks – what is “open”?  We’ve traditionally had an all rights reserved vs. no rights reserved structure which isn’t working, we need something in the middle, like “some rights reserved.”  Open defines a resource/textbook where the rights are held by someone who is making it available to us with some rights reserved and some rights to us.

4 R’s of Openness

  • Reuse – right to copy and use verbatim copies
  • Redistribute – Right to share copies
  • Revise – right to adapt, rework, and improve
  • Remix – right to combine into new OERs

How did open textbooks start? – They started with individual faculty members and now have moved to aggregators like MERLOT and CONNEXIONS which are grown from universities and often funded by foundations. Professional publishing operations are being established as well, like Flat World Knowledge.

Flat World created an environment for authors (faculty members) to write new material  and implement the 4 R’s of Openness for other faculty to adapt the content to their liking.  Students can then choose how to get the book – free online, or fee based options for printed books or copies downloaded to various devices/apps.  55% of students end up purchasing one of the fee based options.  Bookstores can also purchase books via Flat World and sell them on the bookstore shelves.  The process is platform agnostic – perfect!   Authors get a 20% royalty.

Dr. Shu Schiller, Assistant Professor of Information Systems, Wright State University

Dr. Schiller has been using a FWK title for the last 2 years for her MBA class in IT.  She did a case study and reported on 3 perspectives – students, hers, financial.

Student perspective – students love the pricing model of Flat World and appreciate the convenience of reading the textbook online.  Her students were willing to take a laptop with them(on a trip for example) to read the textbook, but were not willing to carry the traditional heavy textbook with them. Finally, the students appreciated the currency of the material and how quickly the case studies in the textbook were updated versus a traditional print textbook.

Dr. Schiller’s perspective – Very easy to choose the book that she wanted from Flat World and she feels the site is very easy to navigate, particularly the “drag and drop” functionality to change the order of chapters in the textbook.

Financial aspects – 281 students were in her class for one year and saved $42,000 in textbook fees by using the free open textbooks from Flat World Knowledge.

Eric’s summary: Knowledge is the black gold of the 21st Century.  Old business models stand in the way, until now.   Free the textbook.

Q/A session:

What can libraries do to educate the faculty about open textbooks?  Pilot projects and small adoption on campus can really make a difference.  They welcome the advocacy of librarians/libraries to increase the awareness of faculty.

Authors – Flat World welcomes talented authors with ideas.  Their review process is very traditional – prospectus/proposal, submitting sample material, evaluation takes place, establish academic peer review group.  If the project goes forward, FWK has copy editors, reviewers, etc. to assist with the final production.

Royalties – right now only the original authors will get royalties, but come next spring if someone makes a derivative and posts it to the FWK catalog, if the derivative is adopted outside of their institution, then they will get a royalty on the content they provided in addition to the original author getting royalties.

FWK catalog – currently offer 25 published textbooks, 21 are in business and economics.  They have now raised some venture capital and have expanded their publishing abilities for the most popular courses and hope to have over 140 titles by spring 2012 in a variety of fields in addition to expanding their bus/economics.

3 thoughts on “Ohio’s Digital Textbook Project Webinar Summary”

  1. Sue
    Thank you for such a quick and comprehensive summary. I sat in, too, and thought that all of the presenters shared some helpful information. I especially liked Eric’s visuals and was glad to hear that they will soon try to have all of the slides at the NING you cited.

    I am looking forward to examples of quality textbooks in disciplines beyond business and economics.

  2. This sounds very interesting, but why start from scratch when an inquiry-based digital textbook framework exists – amBook? I’d love to talk with someone involved in the eText Ohio project.

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