What does the addition of online educational resources mean for textbooks?

The beginning of a new term means new classes and a steep hole in our wallets from new textbooks, but online resources have increasingly become a requirement for many classes as well. What does this mean for the future of textbooks, or more importantly, for the prices for textbooks and online resources?

The struggle with textbooks begins at an early age when elementary school children suffer from chronic back pain, according to Dr. Pierre D’Hemecourt, a sports medicine specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston.

Gradually, the annoyance of carrying textbooks turns into a financial frustration — as college students on average pay $1,200 a year for books, according to The College Board. Now being added to the burden of the textbooks, are online resources like Sapling Learning and Connect.

University of Oregon economist instructor and PhD candidate, Ben Fitch-Fleischmann, requires his students to purchase an economics textbook and access Sapling Learning, an online resource where homework and other exam preparations can be assigned.

Fitch-Fleischmann said class size is the reason behind having both resources: “Class size is definitely the reason for using an online homework system. With 300+ students, it would be too time consuming to grade homework by hand. But I think it’s important for students to get a lot of chances to practice and get feedback, which the online system does pretty well.”

The total cost of this one class is $201.75,  including the textbook, $171.75, and access to Sapling Learning, $30.

Taylor Eldridge, a sophomore English major, spent $400 on textbooks this term, and although it wasn’t required, her time doing Spanish homework was mostly spent online.

Access to the online learning site, like Connect and Imagina Supersite, would cost $120, and the prime argument in support for online resources is its ability to adapt to the students’ learning habits.

“I know many don’t like it, but it did help me,” said Eldridge. “I could go back before an exam and redo an assignment, and that’s how I learn best, through repetition.”

Sites like Sapling Learning claim that its learning tools create better test scores, but Bill Buxton, founder of the open-source publisher Textbook Equity, disagrees.

“I haven’t seen really strong evidence that people are doing a lot better with the online stuff than textbooks,” said Buxton.

The end of the term also means textbook buybacks, but many online add-ons expire at the end of the term or after a specific sequence, undermining the re-sale value.

The future of education may rely largely on technology ending the textbook’s reign, but relief from paying for learning materials may not decrease.

As the use of more online resources are being required for classes, prices are inevitably going to spike, leaving students in the same money hole as before.

Follow Mike Mendoza on Twitter @MikeWheresIke

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Mike Mendoza

Mike Mendoza

Mike is an Arts and Culture reporter covering campus events while dabbling into the entertainment side of things. His free time is spent listening to Taylor Swift and researching Richard Nixon.