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University of Wisconsin Expands Digital Textbook Rental Pilot This Spring

February 19th, 2013 by · No Comments · digital textbooks

bh1_1[1]I have long argued that textbook rentals aren’t as good of a value for college students as textbook arbitrage (buying and selling back textbooks), but it looks like I might have to eat my words.

The University of Wisconsin Stout is one of a couple dozen American universities that directly rents paper textbooks to student, and this past Fall semester they started dabbling in renting digital textbooks. The pilot program is going to be expanded this Spring, and the early results from the Fall semester have already revealed some interesting info on cost and user adoption.

UW-Stout has been renting textbooks to students for longer than any of us have been alive, and by this time they have the system down pat. Students pay $170 per school year to rent textbooks at UW-Stout, an amount that is far less than what students pay for textbooks at virtually any other university in the US (national average is over $600).

This school-wide rental program makes UW-Stout an ideal case for renting digital textbooks, and the school has been testing the idea in a pilot program with the plan of using digital textbooks in up to 80% of the courses taught at UW-Stout by 2016. The pilot program started last Fall and included around 200 students in 5 class sections. It was expanded this Spring to cover 1,500 undergraduate and graduate students using in 40 different courses.

The program is facing some resistance from students. A recent poll of 2,000 UW-Stout students showed that, all else being equal, a slight majority of the students (63%) would still prefer paper textbooks to digital. But more importantly, 73% of students didn’t like the idea of paying more for digital textbooks than they are currently paying to rent paper textbooks.

And there is a good chance they would have to pay more. The university processes the paper textbooks in-house, but digital textbooks would have to be rented on the open market from vendors like Amazon, Coursesmart, Vitalsource.

But in spite of the increased cost, there are some benefits to the idea. Participants in the pilot program indicated that they likes digital textbooks because the digital textbooks:

  • Are more portable. If students and professors have their computer, tablet or smartphone they have their textbook. Students can view the text online or download it so it’s available if the Internet isn’t.
  • Let students interact within the texts through highlighting, asking questions and adding notes
  • Let professors customize and edit the text. They can insert homework assignments, links to other material and even links to videos.
  • Let professors order specific chapters of a book instead of a whole book.
  • Let professors easily access revised editions or change e-texts from year to year.
  • Are searchable for key words or information.
  • Let students print notes or other material directly from the text
  • Don’t require waiting in line to pick up or drop off, and there are no fines for damages.

via The Cite

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