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Indiana U Signs Pearson into eTexts Program

Indiana University has signed a deal with Pearson as part of the institution's sizable eTexts@IU initiative. Pearson is one of just a few major publishers that have been holdouts on the digital textbook project, which allows faculty to choose those over printed textbooks in order to obtain a reduced price on the curriculum for students. The news was hinted at recently in an article about eTexts@IU on campustechnology.com.

The eTexts pilot began in 2009 and spread to all eight Indiana U campuses in 2011. Students and faculty access the materials through Courseload, an online platform that allows students to read, annotate, and communicate with others on computers, tablets, and smartphones. The university isn't divulging the details of the agreement. But previous agreements with other publishers guarantee a discount for the digital textbook in return for every student registered for a class paying a course fee for access to the e-book, which is dramatically discounted from the price they'd pay for the traditional textbook.

This "100 percent coverage" or "course fee" model does an end run around the problem of students choosing not to buy the book at all, pirating a copy of the book online, or buying it used, all of which cut the publisher out from the transaction entirely and contribute to the formula used by publishers in setting textbook prices.

Calling the deal "fantastic," Nik Osborne, leader of the Indiana University (IU) eTexts initiative and chief of staff for the Office of the Vice President for IT, said the earliest that Pearson digital materials would show up in classrooms as part of the new agreement would be fall 2012, though a more certain timeline is spring 2013. "In some cases the faculty will come to us after the fact and say, 'Well, I want to use an e-text.' In those cases, we allow our registrar to look into those requests and determine if it would be beneficial for the students, determine if there are other options, [and] determine how many students have registered at that point. We want to make sure our students are informed at all times. Those decisions are made by the individual registrars on the eight campuses."

Osborne said the university is also negotiating with Pearson on the use of its supplemental material--digital content, such as MyMathLab, to make that available as part of the OnCourse platform. Indiana U's approach with supplemental resources, he explained, is to persuade publishers to make those available as separate from the digital textbook. That way, faculty can choose to use just a book, just the supplemental material, or a combination.

Osborne noted that Pearson is one of the top three textbook publishers providing course materials to faculty and the largest in terms of the number of titles used at Indiana U. The top three publishers, he said, account for about 60 percent of materials in use; the top five publishers supply about 72 percent. After that, "There's a long tail of publishers that provide the rest."

So adding Pearson to the eTexts portfolio, which also includes McGraw Hill, Macmillan, Flat World Knowledge, Harvard Business Publishing, Indiana University Press, W.W. Norton, and Wiley, is "significant," he said. "We're really starting to get a grasp of what our faculty want to teach with and that our students want to use."

"IU has long used its scale to provide excellent software deals from Microsoft and Adobe, and the eTexts initiative extends that win-win approach to help reduce the costs of digital course materials for students," said Brad Wheeler, vice president for information technology and chief information officer. "Pearson is a world leader in developing the next generation of online learning experiences, and this deal enables IU faculty to choose Pearson products and save students money."

Although the deal with Pearson won't be automatically integrated into the work Indiana U is doing with five other institutions through Internet2's NET+ service pilot, Osborne believes it does signal more such arrangements in the near future. "We think this is a positive step. We can't speak for Pearson, but I would hope that this is a good start for seeing more of these types of models pop out there at other institutions. It's not about telling publishers, 'You shouldn't make any money' or 'You should provide materials for free.' It's more about lowering the cost for students, while still making sure publishers and authors get a fair rate for the work they put into those resources."

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