08:08 AM

Trustees to consider expanding use of digital course material for student savings

The Ohio State University is considering a plan to expand the use of digital course material in an effort to cut expenses for students.

The university conducted a pilot program this semester called CarmenBooks. All students were offered digital access to course materials directly in Carmen, through Unizin’s Engage eReader software.

Ohio State piloted the eReader software during autumn semester 2018 and CarmenBooks this spring. Students were notified of the discounted digital textbook cost during their course registration and paid the associated digital textbook fee as part of their tuition and fees.

The university has seen significant results from the pilot: 1,606 students from 12 courses in two colleges participated, resulting in total savings of $217,173.

This week, the Ohio State Board of Trustees will consider a proposal to extend the CarmenBooks pilot for summer and autumn semester. If approved, the university anticipates the expanded pilot will reach 11,500 students from 32 courses in nine colleges and departments, and result in more than $865,000 in direct student savings.

If the pilot is approved, students will have saved more than $1 million during the first year of CarmenBooks. The cost savings for students are part of a commitment by the university’s Affordable Learning Exchange to reduce the cost of course content through the use of digital and open-sourced material.

The Affordable Learning Exchange funds projects to help faculty find new ways to design classes that reduce costs for students. Services include support for course design, use of University Libraries for free access to required textbooks, and access to openly licensed course material like free video and textbooks.

“Our goal is to save students $10 million by 2020,” Associate Vice President of Learning Technology Liv Gjestvang said.

This is about more than just saving money – costly textbooks can be a barrier to learning.

Jennie Babcock, undergraduate program director at the College of Social Work, recently discussed some of the findings of a survey that showed the challenges students face when buying textbooks. Presenting at the Innovate Faculty Showcase, Babcock said that when students report they cannot afford course books, they often look to buy older editions or buy textbooks later in the semester.

“It impacts their ability to be really successful,” she said.

Babcock said the CarmenBooks program is at the heart of the university’s commitment to access and affordability.

“Once a student enrolls in a course, the textbook is seamlessly there. They have access before the first day of class,” Babcock said.

Access to the textbook doesn’t go away at the end of the semester, so students can refer back to the books throughout their academic career. Babcock said that can be helpful during licensing testing.