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USF course to pilot first open-access e-textbook


The day when students are no longer required to pay hundreds of dollars each semester for textbooks and course materials may finally be on the horizon.

During his recent fall address to faculty, USF Provost Ralph Wilcox announced that the students enrolled in professor Jennifer Schneider’s Literature in Childhood Education course will use an open-access e-textbook to read digital literature collections, move through interactive lessons and visit children’s literature museums.

“If we can find a way to reduce the cost of textbooks for students and engage them more fully in the learning process, students of this generation, I think, are going to be all the more successful,” Wilcox said in an interview.

Schneider, an associate professor in the College of Education, said her online class’s e-textbook originally began as a proposal to the Textbook Affordability Project (TAP). 

TAP, focused on providing students and faculty with alternatives to full-priced textbooks, is a service of the USF Library, which partnered with USF Innovative Education to develop a digital open-access textbook program and Schneider’s resulting e-textbook.

“I was pretty excited that USF is doing this,” Schneider said. “It seems to be pretty cutting edge for a university to do this kind of work.”

Perhaps the feature of the e-textbook most immediately noticeable to students is its cost. Schneider said the book, being open access, is completely free. She said students would normally have to pay anywhere from $80 to $120 for a hard copy.

“Because textbooks are so expensive, many students can’t get them,” she said. “When things are open-access, the information is readily available and free.”

Unlike most traditional textbooks, Schneider said her class’s e-textbook will be very visual and highly interactive, employing the use of educational videos and Internet links to more easily display course content. Whereas students would normally have to research static references in a paper textbook, she said they can travel directly to a Web page instead.

Schneider said the book is also unique because it was written with USF students in mind. She said she was thinking very specifically about the students who would be taking her course when she wrote the e-textbook.

“It’s very targeted toward them, but it’s also broad enough that other people would be able to use it in other universities,” she said. “The tone, the content and the scope of the book is written with (USF) students in mind. I wrote like I would speak to them if we were all together.”

Schneider said there are drawbacks to open-access e-textbooks, however. She said other instructors looking to use these books in their classes should be comfortable with the free use of their intellectual property, as Schneider’s textbook will be free to her class and available for download at USF’s Scholar Commons.

Schneider said e-textbooks are also generally more difficult to produce than traditional textbooks, as she feels it is more work to think not only in written language but in visual language and then combine the two.

“It does require a lot more effort, but the outcome is really beneficial to the student because it makes the content much more interesting,” she said.

Wilcox said the implementation of the e-textbook in Schneider’s class marks the departure of USF’s digital open-access textbook program from its pilot phase, and he said more e-textbooks for additional classes will be developed this fall.

“Some of our more innovative faculty are starting to recognize the utility of technology in enhancing student learning,” he said. “Hopefully we’ll get some takers in the College of Arts and Sciences in large general education courses where students have to, at the moment, pay outlandish prices for books.”

Regarding how the book is being funded without students purchasing it, Schneider said the book is a provost-funded initiative, but said she could not divulge any further details on costs or funding.

Schneider said the e-textbook is still in its early prototype stage, and developers are currently deciding whether the book should be downloadable or take another format like a cloud-based application.