Online Textbook Information Project Needs Faculty Help
Across the country rising book prices have made it harder for some students to afford college. According to a 2005 report by the General Accounting Office, college students spend an average of $900 a year for textbooks, an amount that has risen at more than twice the inflation rate over the past two decades. The GAO report found that college textbook prices almost tripled between 1986 and 2004, rising 186 percent by 2005. (source: Inside Higher Education, August 16, 2005.) At MIT, the average annual book expenditures is estimated at $1150, taking into account the higher prices of science and engineering texts.
In the past, students have asked to have a list of required textbooks published online before the start of each term, so they may shop for competitive retailers and possibly reduce expenses. Over a year-and-a-half ago, DUE, IS&T, MIT Libraries and the Undergraduate Association agreed to act immediately on the need for a system to help students do this.
Since then, IS&T has worked with the Libraries on an Online Textbook Information project (OTI) to provide a transparent and simple means for online access to required textbooks as far as possible before each term starts.
The OTI workflow leverages the existing textbook information collection process in place between the Libraries and the faculty, and makes this information available via Stellar, where it is correlated with relevant course pages. Additionally, the OTI Web service makes this data available openly for use by other applications and services.
While this initiative began before Congress passed the Higher Education Act (HEA), it positions MIT to comply with HEA’s new compliance requirements for textbook information. The HEA states that, effective July 2010, institutions must disclose retail price and ISBN of required and recommended textbooks in course materials used for pre-registration and registration purposes, if available. In the months ahead, MIT will consider plans and policies concerning the textbook provisions as well as other aspects of the Higher Education Act intended to make college more affordable. This will include working with the COOP to have one collection point to avoid duplicate forms.
In May 2008, Dean for Undergraduate Education Daniel Hastings asked 10 departments to participate in the pilot version of OTI. The pilot proceeded smoothly and the plan was to have a full version ready for the spring 2009 semester. Many faculty facilitated the process by providing spring term information to the Libraries as soon as possible after receiving the Libraries’ request in early November. (For an entertaining look at the OTI process and to add your own comments, see: https://wikis.mit.edu/confluence/display/OTI2/OTI.)
At this time of economic crisis, when families wonder more than ever how they will afford to send their children to college, we all must do as much as possible to reduce the costs.