With All the Digital Textbook Noise I Thought I’d Share Our Solution

20 Jan

The Apple announcements, as expected, have stirred things up in the digital textbook discussion. I’ve been heavily involved with digital textbooks for the last 2 1/2 years and have learned numerous lessons, experienced pitfalls and worked toward fabulous instructional opportunities. I will continue to share those in this blog.

I thought I would share a brief video that discusses eText.Illinois, the digital textbook system we’ve developed in the College of ACES Information Technology and Communication Services.

Video Overview of the eText.Illinois Digital Textbook System

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Apple’s Education Announcement

17 Jan
Education Announcement Image
Education Announcement Image

Lots of rumors swirling today – will the announcement be an iTunes-eque selling of textbooks from the major publishers -OR- self-publishing.

I’m hoping for both.

Self-Publishing – Power to the Local Author

eText.Illinois, the digital textbook system my group developed plays on the need for locally produced, short run (can you say that in the digital world?) textbooks. We use the ePub format at the core but the main consumption of the book is through our webapp. It is a big production getting the texts formatted and ready. Unfortunately and usually the books/docs are written in MS-Word and any export of course is a mess. We revert everything back to plain text.

I’ve come to love editing in Markdown (actually Multimarkdown since we need tables). Getting a cleanly marked up book is pretty straightforward, however it’s hard to tell a professor to write in a text editor. Will there be a slick and enticing Apple authoring tool? The buzz is teasing us with a “Garageband for e-books.” That would be cool and particularly if it creates clean, ADA accessible docs.

So Much for the Self-Publishing Angle. How About the Big Publishers?

There are so many textbook purchasing models available to students: purchased, purchase – sell back (used), rental, digital textbook access for specific amount of time, and purchase of digital textbooks with and without digital rights management. The model that the publishers don’t like is the used book’s purchase – sell back cycle, effectively removing the publisher from those additional sales and profits as books get used and sold over and over again. The publishers see digital sales, without resale, as their chance back into the profit game.

A sales model for textbooks similar to the iTunes music model with Apple operating the cash register, paying the wholesale publishers, and dealing with consumption devices like the iPad is a very nice model for all involved. Apple did transform the music industry in this way like it or not.

The interesting twist is that iTunes is not just about the major record labels, it’s got the indie labels and even the solo artist/act with a couple of records. These lower sales volume releases co-mingle in an online storefront with the big labels. The blending of all ranks of music business is effective and can drive sales for the little guy. (I know, I’ve played on and engineered quite a few records on iTunes.)

Can this mixture of big companies and little guys work with digital textbooks?

The missing piece from our eText.Illinois model is use of published, copyrighted content within a locally authored book legally but without all the hoop jumping of permissions. If our local authors and us as producers had a simple means to blend copyrighted content into self published eBooks I would be extremely excited. Companies like McGraw-Hill already have an “a la carte” book building process through their own web interfaces and formats. If Apple could provide the a la carte selection of copyrighted content in their authoring tool THAT WOULD BE A GAME CHANGER.

Imagine:
You have a course “reader” that contains a number of articles and reprints from books, journals, etc. The local copy shop gets permissions and prints it up for the students to buy and read. The professor/author may want to write introductions, add some glue between articles and a postscript. Maybe insert some assignments in between articles. Definitely value-added content.

While writing in this epublishing dream world I am describing Apple’s authoring tool would provide the ability to “browse” – like Apple’s iLife Media Browser – copyrighted content from the big publishers. Each piece of copyrighted content would have a unit cost that dynamically adds cost to the final book price. The “meter is running”; depending on what and how much the author finds and inserts into their book.

So the end price of the locally authored book is:

Author’s Price + Autocalculated License Fee to Publisher(s) = Textbook Cost

The student buys the book from the iAcademicBookstore (or whatever Apple calls it) and everyone is happy:

  • Pubishers get accurate licensing with no overhead in dealing with numerous small books.
  • Authors can use copyrighted content without worry of infringement. If it’s easy to use, the authors will use copyrighted content more liberally.
  • Locally authored books generate local revenue for author, department, college, etc. whatever is appropriate.
  • If the myth of digital books hold true, student costs should go down. (we’ll see)

Win, Win?

Turning in a report

1 Dec

I was put in the lead on a recommendation committee for live streaming media across our three campuses. We are not well coordinated that’s for sure and this is certainly a step in he right direction. I had a group of five people working with me. It was a good process. I had some disagreements with the team and had to grapple with how to deal with it. I reached for guidance from the leadership I work under.

What I found was that I didn’t need to agree. I simply reported the differences in opinion honestly. There is this myth of consensus in higher education. Sometimes we don’t see eye to eye but we also must move forward and let the decision makers that requested the report read it and act.

Just glad to turn it in tomorrow.

Move to WordPress

15 Nov

I’ve been around blog world. Of course after all the flashy, easy to use, etc… fluff – here I am.

I’ll be using this to reflect, vent, hopefully show gratitude for a year that will be something new.