Digital Education Resources: What price, adoption?

In my last post, I wrote that I measure the success of technology infusion not in the numbers of students that adopt the technology but in the outcomes that they achieve.  When we are considering technologies that are making resources available to students leveraging tools already available and in their toolbox, then I think we can use these measures, but what if students are faced with the daunting challenge of having to acquire new technology to use a technologically delivered resource?

And what if that resource is required?

I had the privilege to speak with a representative from a textbook publisher about their new technological advance, designed to help students learn better, and even more, help faculty by automating the grading and evaluation process.  At first blush I was convinced we had a win-win here. Students would be able to learn at their own pace, seeking out knowledge to help them with their problems while simultaneously lifting some of the administrative burden that faculty like least–the grading of homework.  1  In the presentation, I was shown how students could not only work through their homework problems, but also click a link to take them directly to the section of the textbook that discusses the approaches needed to solve the homework problem.

While all these solutions are browser based and would work on a wide range of netbook, notebook and desktop computers (Mac, Windows and presumably LINUX based) I was beginning to see just how a digital device such as the Apple iPad could be perfect for such a solution.  The iPad could easily contain all the textbooks a student would have in a semester, could then also assist in the completion not only of the homework but could be instrumental in integrating their understanding of the material with their communications with their classmates and their professor and, given the right writing tools, could be the hub for their homework, email and writing assignments.

Then my thoughts came to a screeching halt when the representative started to talk about prices.


Access to the homework tool (included in the purchase of a NEW textbook) would cost students $10 if they chose to instead by a book used.  Of course, that would only give them access to the homework assignments.  There was an additional fee ($30 I believe) if they wanted to have the “PLUS” features, including the hyperlinking to the appropriate section of the text.  Of course students could simply purchase the complete digital version, integrating the textbook with the online supplemental materials, and read the books on their computer 2

As I listened, I started hearing the dollar signs tally up quite quickly–and all because of decisions I would make concerning the structure of my class.  Would I require students to complete their homework online?  Would I choose to be considerate of their purse-strings and instead make the online homework an option–requiring me as a faculty member to not only NOT see a time savings but now instead have to manage two separate streams of assignment turn-ins, along with separate grading schema as well?

And what about the students who feel they learn best when they can sit, with a pencil and piece of paper, textbook open before them and their trusty calculator by their side, plugging and chugging their way through to the solutions each problem challenging, then leading to the epiphany they so richly enjoy?

So now I sit here, faced with the interesting challenge–Do I push forward into the technology of pedagogy, and require students to spend more money for digital learning, or do I resist, ironically clinging to paper texts with the twisted ideal of helping students more frugally achieve their learning objective?  Or do I try to chart a course, mandating neither, and potentially creating chaos in the wake? 3

  1.  Why would faculty want to avoid this?  It’s not really as self-serving as it may seem.  By not having to grade 30, 60, or 90 homework problems, with each student providing a (small subset of) wrong answer, we can instead use that time to conduct our own research that hopefully we bring to the classroom to share with the students, or spend time maintaining currency in our understanding of our discipline–again keeping our material fresh and relevant to the students.
  2.  or their iPad–all of this publisher’s textbooks are available today on that device–but not the Kindles.
  3.  Go read my previous post from last year, where I discuss, as part of a series I wrote, why textbooks SHOULD be significantly cheaper when they move to digital.  I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide why they won’t.