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Virginia State Moves to Digital Textbooks in Business Program

Virginia State University recently purchased a digital site license for textbooks from Flat World Knowledge to be used in business courses. In place of traditional textbooks, students enrolled in the university's School of Business will be using the alternative publisher's books in digital formats. Under the agreement, the university will purchase seat licenses for students enrolled in eight courses in the core business curriculum. The company's Creative Commons license for its book content will also enable faculty to customize the textbooks they're using for specific course needs.

Institution representatives said they expect to add more courses to the license next year. Each site license will cost the school $20 per student per course for digital access to all learning content for the core business curriculum. The pre-paid license includes Web, PDF, audio, and e-reader versions for the iPad, Kindle, and other e-readers. Online and interactive study aids are also included. Students with print disabilities will have access to the texts in Digital Accessible Information System (DAISY) and Braille Ready Format (BRF) formats. The digital files don't have an expiration date or copy-protection; users can transfer the books among devices. For students who prefer a physical book, softcover textbooks will also be available for $30.

One goal of the shift to digital versions of books is to boost retention rates at the school by reducing the cost of attending college. "Less than 50 percent of our students buy textbooks because they can't afford them, and this causes students to fall behind," said Mirta Martin, dean of the School of Business. "Through this licensing model we hope to break that cycle, improve retention and graduation rates, and create a pipeline of student success. Our students have always had the ability and intellect, now they will have the resources."

Eventually, the university reported, students will cover the cost of the licensing. But even then, the school said in a statement, it expects students to save $900 or more per year on textbooks.

The change with textbooks mirrors changes in curriculum at the business program too. This fall the school is introducing an "integrated core business curriculum," an approach to learning that reflects the process orientation followed by companies. The curriculum begins with skills-based courses in the first two years, an integrated business core in the junior year, and major-related courses and a capstone project in the senior year.

"We are in the business of education and must seek innovative ways to ensure the success of our students, especially during these times of severe budget cuts and economic uncertainty," said President Keith Miller. "The licensing agreement with Flat World Knowledge meets the needs of our business students and faculty for high-quality, affordable textbooks and serves as a model for how academic institutions and innovative publishers can partner to solve critical higher education issues."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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