Digital textbooks may or may not be cheaper

21 May

In Could ‘open source’ textbooks be cheaper than traditional textbooks? Moi said:

Open-source textbooks are another option in the calculation of the most cost effective option for obtaining needed textbooks. Information Age Education has a lot of information about the “open source” movement. The question is whether “free” is really “free.”

Education News is reporting in the article, Teacher-Written Digital Textbooks: A Cheaper Alternative?

Tired of constantly replacing their outdated — and expensive — statistics textbooks, officials in the Anoka Hennepin School District have let their teachers write their own digital textbooks instead, writes Abigail Wood at the Heartlander.

The teachers thought we could do a better job writing our own book that fit our state standards and the needs of our students,” said high school math teacher Michael Engelhaupt, who helped write the digital textbook.

Three teachers were asked to create the book and were paid $10,000 each. The whole project saved a total of about $175,000….

The push for “open source” textbooks has been around for a couple of years. Ashley Vance writes in the 2010 New York Times article, $200 Textbook vs. Free. You Do the Math. Whether the “open source” movement will evolve into the way that textbooks are sourced remains to be seen.

Daniel Lutzer has an informative Washington Monthly post, Why Textbooks Cost So Much:

Considering that the average student spends slightly under $900 buying textbooks in a year, reducing the cost of such things seems like a worthy endeavor, but how much of the textbook market can change? How much of this is worth fixing, really?

According to this piece at Mental Floss, there’s not really much we can do. As Ethan Trex wrote back in September:

In the simplest economic terms, the high price of textbooks is symptomatic of misaligned incentives, not exorbitant production costs. Students hold the reasonable stance that they’d like to spend as little money as possible on their books. Students don’t really have the latitude to pick which texts they need, though.

Professors pick the course materials, and faculty members don’t have any strong incentive to be price sensitive when it comes to selecting textbooks. Their out-of-pocket expense is zero whether the required texts cost $100 or $300, so there’s no real barrier to heaping on more reading material. If a student needs Class X to graduate, they’ll likely need to procure the required texts. This lack of cost-control incentives for professors is a major reason that at some point in college, everyone meets the expensive textbook’s even more maddening cousin, the Expensive Textbook You Never Even Use.Moreover, however, while students might complain about the price of textbooks, they don’t exert enough influence over the process to bring the costs down.

Because of the cost of textbooks, some are advocating not only open-source texts, but digital texts to cut costs.

Jason Tomassini writes in the Education Week article, Educators Weigh E-Textbook Cost Comparisons:

Proponents of digital textbooks say they save school districts money, even when factoring in the costs of tablets. In figuresRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader cited by the Digital Textbook Collaborative from Project RED, a research project that examines the use of technology in education, a 500-student school can save between $35 and $250 per student per year by switching to digital textbooks.

But more than $100 of those estimated per-student savings is associated with improved student discipline, increased teacher attendance, and digital student assessment, highly variable costs not directly tied to digital content. The estimate also assumes the price of a tablet is $250, less than many tablets, including the iPad, which runs between $379 and $700, depending on the specifications.

Independent observers have moved to debunk some of the cost-saving estimates for digital textbooks.

Using numbers from the 11,000-student Palo Alto district, in California, The San Jose Mercury News determined that hardware and content for digital textbooks on the iPad would add up to three times the cost of sticking with print.

And in a widely distributed blog post, Lee Wilson, a technology-industry veteran with experience at companies such as Apple and Pearson, determined that it could cost up to five times more to provide students with an iPad and Apple’s digital textbooks….

Different Models

McAllen Independent School District, McAllen, Texas

Enrollment: 27,000 students (67 percent eligible for free or reduced-price meals, 92 percent Hispanic)

Textbook Initiative Started: Fall 2011

Expenditures: $20 million total over five years (three years remaining). $6.5 million on infrastructure, including broadband and equipment; $12.1 million for devices, cases, and apps; $1.2 million for professional development

Funding Sources: E-rate, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, private donations, technology budget, special education budget, Title I funding

Devices Purchased: 27,000 iPad 2s

Digital Textbooks: 80 percent PDF, 15 percent interactive, 5 percent teacher-generated content

Notes: Encouraged local businesses to offer Wi-Fi so students could use devices outside class; students allowed to download music on devices; partnering with Abilene Christian University for research.

Pinellas County Schools, Fla.

Enrollment: 104,000 students

Students With Internet Access: 50 percent

Textbook Initiative Started: March 2010

Devices Purchased: 2,350 Kindles with Wi-Fi ($177 each, four-year shelf life); 1,000 Kindle Fires ($199 each), 3,100 Kindle readers, 7,500 iPads

E-textbook Publishers: CK-12 (free), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Pearson, Cengage Learning

Funding Sources: Voter referendum, advance on school technology funds

Notes: First districtwide client for Amazon Kindle device; sent books to third-party company to “Kindle-ize” books with note-taking capabilities; Amazon delivered customized reading lists through a cloud service to each student.

Vail School District, Ariz.

Enrollment: 11,000 students

Textbook Initiative Started: May 2008

Devices Purchased: 1,300 MacBooks ($800 each); 102 iPads ($500 each); 120 iPod Touches ($200 each); 400 Hewlett-Packard netbooks ($400 each)

Classroom Hardware Purchased: 100 interactive whiteboards, document camera in each class

Expenditures: $500,000 on property and liability insurance, $40,000 per year on Internet services

Course Material Expenditures: $10 per student, down from $60 per student

Notes: District stopped purchasing new textbooks, both print and digital; all course material is free and/or generated by teachers; largest school district in Arizona with all schools rated as “excelling.”

Riverside Unified School District, Calif.

Enrollment: 44,000 students (67 percent eligible for free or reduced-price meals)

Textbook Initiative Started: May 2009

Devices Purchased: 4,500 Hewlett-Packard netbooks ($300 each); 4,500 Android devices, including Lenovo slates and Kindle Fires ($200 each); 3,000 iPod Touches ($200 each); 500 iPads ($500 each)

Digital Content: 60 percent e-textbooks, 40 percent open content

Notes: Students without devices follow Bring Your Own Technology approach; district had to cut $200 million from its budget in recent years; students use Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Fuse Algebra app ($40 each) and CK-12 Flexbooks (free).

Source: Education Week

The economics of the textbook market are one example of why it is difficult to curb some education costs.


The digital divide in classrooms                    

The importance of the skill of handwriting in the school curriculum

Dr. Wilda says this about ©

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