This is a guest blog post by Jim Farmer, Coordinator, Scholarly Systems Group at Georgetown University and editor at the eReSS project, University of Hull.
On Friday, June 1st, the Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance released their report “Turn the Page: Making College Textbooks More Affordable.” Responding to a Congressional concern about high and rapidly increasing cost of “textbooks,” the Advisory Committee was asked “to conduct a one-year study of the cost of college textbooks and to make recommendations on increasing the affordability of textbooks.,”
The report was the well-referenced, thoughtful and realistic document and recommendations for which the Committee is known. Higher education should view the report as a warning of the “groundswell of criticism against colleges, bookstores, and publishers” Congress is receiving from constituents already concerned by high and increasing costs of college. Faculty should now be aware cost and effectiveness of learning materials and instructional methods will become an issue. Publishers should accelerate their effort for interoperability and cost reduction.
Faculty Use of Learning Materials and Services
The authors were careful to use the term “textbooks and other learning materials.” But the public hearings and references using the term “textbooks” suggesting few are aware of how faculty use learning materials and services provided by publishers-often included in the cost of textbooks. Analysis of recent surveys of faculty report:
- 94% of faculty required or recommended a textbook in 2004; 90% in 2006, a decrease of 4%.
- 75% required or recommended supplementary materials in 2004; 86% in 2006, an increase of 11%.
- 90% of faculty believe less-prepared students would do better if they spent more time reading the textbook, 5% disagree.
- 79% believe students would do better if they used supplementary materials, 11% disagree.
- 30% of faculty use the textbook publishers’ online homework; 19% use the publishers’ online quizzes.
More than 4 million college students now use online services from the two primary publishers to supplement their classroom experience, and these numbers continue to grow.
This use does not include learning materials created by faculty members solely for use in their classrooms, available from colleges and universities and networks, or from the U.S. government. There is substantial and increasing use of learning materials that make the phrase “textbooks and other learning materials” more representative of today’s reality on college campuses.
Almost all colleges and universities-estimated between 84 and 98%–have implemented learning systems on campus. An increasing number are using on-line services.
However, there are two constraints on faculty use of local learning services: An increasing number of part-time faculty.
Currently, more than 45% of faculty are part-time (63.5% in community colleges) with limited capability to develop or refine learning materials (as compared to less than 22% in 1970).
As an example of time required to author a text, the authoring of a recent multiple-authored 55-chapter biology textbook required 135 hours of writing and 15 hours of review for each of the 55 chapters of a biology textbook-a total of 8,250 hours. This did not include the time to develop charts, graphs, and formats faculty find necessary for their learning materials-2,830 hours done by the publishers. MIT estimated the costs of preparing OpenCourseWare materials from faculty-authored content was $30,000 per course. Authoring and developing a textbook to the point of publication-digital, print or any combination-is expensive, and a rare luxury for the growing number of adjunct faculty.
The second constraint is that faculty support for the development or use of learning materials is limited. EDUCAUSE surveys report the average institution (4,100 students) employs 6.9 staff and 4.9 student full-time equivalents that support faculty, provide multimedia services, and support student computing (compared to double that for administrative systems). Each FTE instructional technology staff member is supporting 22 faculty members at the same time they support the operation of learning systems and student computing. With current staffing a faculty member can expect only 15 to 60 minutes of support for the development and/or use of learning materials per week. This may explain why they are turning to publishers for materials and their on-line services.
Cost Effectiveness of Textbooks and Other Learning Materials
There is little data on either the costs or effectiveness of learning materials. When reviewed, the examples of using education technology for improved retention, completion, or student mastery presented to the Spelling’s Commission were almost all based on the use of publishers’ learning materials for lower division courses.
To ensure effectiveness of its learning materials, the British Open University consistently designs, develops, and extensively tests its learning materials. Materials for a course include textbooks, video, audio, experimental kits, tutor guides, and, now, Internet materials. In a 1999 presentation to the National Council of Higher Education Programs, an Open University official confirmed the estimated cost for the development of Open University’s media-rich, fully tested, baccalaureate program was US$1 billion. Because of the effectiveness of these materials for less prepared students with work and family obligations, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation focused on making these materials available to all colleges and universities.
Recognizing the need for data on learning effectiveness, Congress “called for a rigorous study of the effectiveness of educational technology for improving student academic achievement” in K-12. The Institute of Education Sciences first-year report concluded, for three products tested for high school algebra, “estimates show that effects on test scores generally were not statistically different from zero.” Those familiar with the data suggest at least one of the three products did improve test scores. (See the Blackboard Forum video for details). Analysis of the data shows a shift from lecture to individual study-toward personalized instruction recommended by the Pell Institute for a diverse study body. Since 64% of student entering community colleges lack mathematics preparation and faculty report 50% of all students entering college are “unprepared,” these results may also provide guidance for instruction of first-time entering students.
The Committee’s Recommendation
Costs and effectiveness of learning materials was beyond the scope and resources of the Advisory Committee. The recommendation to defer Congressional action provides time to better understand the costs and effectiveness of “other learning materials” before attempting to restructure “the market” through legislation. Hopefully higher education will make good use of the time the Advisory Committee is suggesting.
Advisory Committee on Student Financial Assistance. 2007. Turn the Page: Making College Textbooks More Affordable. Washington DC. (May 31).
Association of American Publishers. 2004. What Goes into Making a Textbook?. Washington DC. (October 12).
Blackboard Inc. 2007. Are American Students Left Behind?. Washington, DC. (May 16, video only).
Dynarski, M. et al. 2007. Effectiveness of Reading and Mathematics Software Products: Findings from the First Student Cohort. Washington DC: Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. (NCEE 2007-4005 March 2).
Engle, J. and O’Brien, C. 2007. Demography Is Not Destiny: Increasing the Graduation Rates of Low-Income College Students at Large Public Universities. Washington DC. (April 11).
Farmer, J. 2006. Faculty Use of Publisher-Provided Textbooks and Supplementary Materials in the United States. Washington DC: instructional media + magic, inc. (December 15).
Hawkins, B. and Rudy, J. A. 2006. Educause Core Data Services, Fiscal Year 2005 SummaryReport. Boulder CO: Educause. (November).
Community College Students: Goals, Academic Preparation, and Outcomes. Washington DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education. (June).
National Center for Education Statistics. 2006. Digest of Education Statistics. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education. (NCES 2006-030 July 31).
The Secretary of Education’s Commission on the Future of Higher Education. 2006. A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education. Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education. (September 18).
St. John, E. and Parsons, M.D. 2004. Public Funding of Higher Education: changing contexts and new rationales. Baltimore MD: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Tilton, J.E. and Farmer, J. 2006. Learning Environment 2015. Washington DC: instructional media + magic, inc. (February 12).
Wittman, R. and Peck,C.2006. Survey of College Instructors Regarding the Use of Supplemental Materials in the Classroom. Washington DC:.Zogby International. (September 5).
Zogby International. 2007. Supplementary Tabulations Zogby International Survey of College and University Faculty. Washington DC. (February 13).
Zogby, J., Bruce, J., and Wittman, R. 2004. The Attitudes Of College Faculty On The Textbooks Used In Their Courses. Washington DC: Zogby International. (December).