Digital materials could cut book costs

A pilot project in several departments is testing cheap, centralized digital course materials in University classes.
April 02, 2014

Course materials could soon become cheaper and more accessible at the University of Minnesota.

Several University departments are testing digital course packets in 81 class sections. If the pilot program takes off, course materials could be sold online with all the same materials as their physical counterparts, but for a lower price.

Officials from the University Bookstores, University Libraries, the Copyright Permissions Center, the College of Education and Human Development and Moodle are collaborating on the Digital Course Pack Pilot project in hopes of eventually providing online alternatives to printed course material packets.

“It combines different course-related materials into a single point of access,” said Wilson Library reserves coordinator Danika Stegeman, who is involved with the pilot program.

The Digital Course Pack Pilot project started small in fall 2012, with just seven course sections in CEHD.

After finding some success with implementing iPads in its courses, CEHD began looking to expand how it offers content digitally, which led to the larger pilot program this year, said CEHD Information Technology Director Dave Ernst.

In the fall semester, 29 class sections with 610 students piloted digital course packs, according to a presentation on the project.

Students in that pilot program paid about $12 on average per pack, which resulted in savings of more than $30 compared to purchasing printed materials, the presentation said.

The digital course pack pilot was free to create because the University’s electronic reserves system — which maintains the school’s digital library — became open-sourced, said e-learning librarian Kristi Jensen.

The University Bookstores currently sells digital course packs for certain class sections on its website. Jensen praised the Bookstores for being innovative in providing materials and saving students money.

“We’re lucky to have an independent college bookstore that’s aligned with the mission of the University,” she said.

Licensing issues fixed

When students buy printed course packets, Stegeman said, they sometimes pay licensing costs a second time for materials University Libraries already have permission to use.

Pilot program officials found this added to the cost of printed course packs, so they’re working with the University’s Copyright Permissions Center, which takes care of licensing for instructors. By streamlining the permissions process to one office, Stegeman said, course pack costs could be lowered.

“We realized that it was a thing we could fix to make these things available in just one place instead of having them in separate places,” she said.

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