Tuesday, June 26, 2012

New ways to overcharge students for textbooks

Here's a great way to hasten the increasing irrelevance of textbooks:
The college student tradition of sharing or selling used textbooks could come to a screeching halt based on a professor's new patent. That patent would require students to buy access codes with their textbooks to join in mandatory online discussion boards — and failure to participate would mean lower grades.
More from Slate:
On June 5, Joseph Henry Vogel, an economics professor at the University of Puerto Rico-Rio Piedras, was granted U.S. Patent No. 8195571, which proposes a Web-based system to make it easier for publishers to make students pay. The system is based around an online discussion board—one that students would be required to participate in. To get access to the board, you would need to use a code provided in the course’s associated textbook. The budget-conscious could still take advantage of used-books stores—but they’d also have to purchase a (discounted) code.
So in addition to being teachers, graders, service workhorses, entertainers, inspirers, and straw men with supposedly fabulous salaries for politicians to beat up, professors have to become unpaid enforcers for the big textbook companies? Are you ready to say"No code? No grade for you!"?


human said...

How can someone patent this? It's been happening for years. I think it was 2007 when I had to take a ridiculous computer course (required of ALL students at my university) and buy a new $100 textbook (authored by a professor at my university) that contained instructions for how to use Microsoft Word... and a slip of paper with a code on it that allowed you to take the exams.

Contingent Cassandra said...

This is, of course, a very bad idea, but it's also a logical outcome of a system in which publishers are increasingly selling "content packages" that incorporate textbook, quizzes and tests, and (somewhat) interactive activities, and LMSs are set up (and university staff trained) to accommodate "building courses" by installing such packages. There's also an increasing trend toward universities farming out various functions (e.g. student email) to providers who subsidize the function in exchange for getting students accustomed to their format and features. I'm only surprised that this idea is still patentable -- i.e. not already in use.

Spanish prof said...

I've never heard of patents, but it is already done in the languages. And I've been forced to adopt it in the language classes I teach (I have no control over the material).

Z said...

What everyone else said. I am against it, but it is here. There are ways to minimize using it ... unless, as Spanish prof says, you're teaching in a multisection course where one component is an online workbook or discussion board. You can decide not to use it, or minimize the amount it counts for the grade -- if you are allowed. But, if the company is profit sharing with you, and you are expected to bring that money in to help fund your department, you are somewhat stuck.

undine said...

human--that seems so wrong! The ethics guidelines I've seen say that if a professor will profit, he/she is obliged to turn over the profits to the university or a student fund or something.

CC--I've seen the farming out of student email addresses and the content packages but never having this be mandatory.

Spanish prof--thanks for letting us know that this is already happening in the languages. Is this built into the lab fees for languages?

Z--I didn't realize there was profit-sharing for the department with this, although that would put it more in the category of buying a department-specific handbook or something, maybe.

Z said...

Actually, I don't know whether buying the code for the website is actually figured into the profit sharing deal. We do make quite a lot of money just by having very minor (i.e. nominal) customization done to the textbook. It is quite a scam since on the one hand it makes the new book cheaper, but on the other it is not really resellable.

They put essential exercises, videos, etc. - really good stuff if it is a good book - onto a website to which you have to buy a code. Not only is homework done on that website, it also has all sorts of tutorials, verb charts, interactive vocabulary teaching tools, etc., so that the student who does not buy a code lacks key materials for study (and not just the homework exercises).

Spanish prof said...

No, it's not built into lab fees. They have a website with additional exercises and resources (some good, some less so), and students have to purchase an access code in order to be able to do those exercises, which are part of the regular homework assigments.

undine said...

Thanks for the clarification, Spanish prof.

Z, if the exercises are good, maybe that's why the powers that be decided to require it? The policing part still gives me pause, though.