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STUDENT LIFE

Digital textbooks cut costs for IU students


By Tori Fater



IU instructors teaching an estimated 250 class sections this semester are using the two-year-old eTexts program instead of assigning print textbooks.

IU’s Chief Information Officer and Vice President for Information Technology Bradley Wheeler said his office estimated that this semester alone, students using the eTexts program saved more than $200,000.

This estimate comes from comparing textbook costs through the program to retail prices of those textbooks online and in bookstores. Even accounting for sell-back data, eTexts were at least 10 percent cheaper.

Wheeler said as far as content, the paper and digital versions of the textbooks assigned through eTexts are the same. However, he said he feels eTexts offer an advantage over ordinary textbooks.

“The ability to do things with them is pretty substantially different,” he said.

Wheeler said Courseload, the e-reader platform used for this program, offers many useful features. Not only can students highlight and annotate text, a feature offered by other digital texts such as Kindle eBooks, but they can form study groups and share their notes and highlights with other students. Teachers can embed links in the text to relevant websites or online articles to encourage further reading.

IU Student Association Chief of Staff Augustin Ruta said the eTexts program was an effort largely led by the University administration, although IUSA members were invited to several meetings to be a sounding board for ideas.

“We were all very supportive because it is something that will reduce costs for students and is significantly cheaper than a printed textbook,” Ruta said.

Assigning an eText is not the same as assigning a textbook that happens to be available in digital form, Wheeler said. For one, there is no bookstore involved. Texts are bought wholesale, meaning they come directly from the publisher to the user. This removes additional retail costs.

When an instructor opts to use eTexts, the textbooks are automatically downloaded to a course’s OnCourse page. Because the textbooks are automatically downloaded, each student in a course that uses eTexts is also automatically charged for the textbook through their bursar account.

According to the eTexts @ IU website, there is no way for students to opt out of this fee, although Wheeler said class sections that use the program will have a note in the course description pointing out the special fee.

Ruta said this issue was discussed at development meetings.

“It’s a trade-off. There’s obviously a cost-benefit,” Ruta said. “We ended up agreeing that the initial benefit to the vast majority of students, that is, a more powerful tool than a printed textbook, which is largely a lower cost, outweighs that issue.”

These textbooks also avoid some of the pitfalls of other digital texts, Wheeler said. They do not expire and users can print as many pages as they want.

“What we’d heard from students over the years was that having printing as an option was very important,” Wheeler said. “If you really wanted to you could print the whole book.”

This would probably be unnecessary, because another feature of the program is what Wheeler calls the “print-on-demand” feature.

“We worked out deals with the publishers,” he said. “Students can ask for a full paper copy of the book in addition to the digital text.”

Wheeler said he looks forward to the advancements in technology that will continue to improve this program, which he thinks already benefits students a great deal.

“Students keep scrambling to find some cheaper place to buy books online,” he said. “This gets rid of all of that gamesmanship of students trying to get a better deal. We can just get it up front and everybody gets a better deal.”

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