Digital Textbooks

In his recent blog post, Charles Huckabee reports on a law signed in on Thursday by California Gov. Jerry Brown that will affect California colleges and their students.  The law includes measures intended to provide students with access to free online textbooks for 50 undergraduate courses.  Huckabee states that for the undertaking of this task, a nine-member faculty council will be established to identify the classes for which open-access digital textbooks should be developed, to oversee the texts’ development, and to create a digital library to house the textbooks and other courseware.

In response to Huckabee’s blog post, the comments display how many readers have mixed reviews about how useful digital textbooks really are.  As one commenter states, a positive aspect to having a digital textbook is the ability to frequently update the material for academic fields that are constantly changing.  However, as another commenter points out, one of the strongest advantages to traditional textbooks is that they are supported by professional, paid editorial staff, and so the question with digital textbooks then becomes: who is performing the constant updating work?  In another follow-up comment, a reader is concerned with the fact that the nine-member faculty council who will oversee the texts’ development has never been part of the publishing industry, causing fear that the new digital textbooks will be inferior.

In a letter to the Editor titled “Digital Textbooks Have a Downside,” Anne Denton has a different opinion of what the downfalls of digital textbooks are.  In her letter, Denton remarks on how the electronic age could potentially have “placed textbooks at our fingertips for the rest of our lives…but instead we are losing access.”  What Denton is referring to is the fact that many electronic textbooks are available in a typically limited subscription models, giving students access to the material generally only for the duration of their course period.  Denton writes that she hopes that there will be a time when “educational common sense will win over business shortsightedness.”

In a post by Mary Helen Miller, she discusses a California law that will be effective January 1, 2020, requiring that “all textbooks used in public and private postsecondary institutions be made available in electronic form.”  Her opinion is that this change would both encourage professors to integrate technology into the classroom as well as spark student interest.  However, a main point of this article supports Denton’s opinion in that “the business is moving toward digital” and that textbook companies have several incentives to make books available in electronic format, such as the percentage of printed textbooks that are returned from the college bookstore to the publishing company because they go unsold, as well as sales of used books and textbook rentals that hurt publishers.  The post notes that by making a textbook available in electronic form, “the publisher can still make a considerable profit from the six-month rental fee.”

It cannot be about the business, but must be about the functionality and affordances of digital textbooks.  A big advertising point for these new textbooks is that it saves students money, but in reality, the publishers are still finding ways to secure their future business.  The focus of new digital textbook creators must be the students, and their job is not merely to put current print textbooks through a scanner.   In a blog titled “Amazon Announces Digital-Textbook Rentals,” Jie Jenny Zou quotes Sarah L. Glassmeyer, a librarian at Valparaiso University School of Law in Indiana, talking about how the ability for students to quickly and cheaply access textbooks and margin notes appeals to what Zou says she calls “digital learners.”  The fact is, however, that the digital learners of today will not be excited simply about print moved from book to a screen, but are expecting much more out of their digital environment.

Obama Administration’s Challenge To Schools: Embrace Digital Textbooks Within 5 Years” is an article that expresses opportunities digital textbooks can create.  The article states that the Obama administration released a “playbook” to schools that promotes the use of digital textbooks and offers guidance, hoping that dollars spent on traditional textbooks can instead go toward making digital learning more feasible.  “Students can use the textbooks for video explanations to help with homework, they can interact with molecules, and they can manipulate a digital globe to see stories and data about countries…We’re not talking about the print-based textbook now being digital. We’re talking about a much more robust and interactive and engaging environment to support learning,” said Karen Cator, director of the Education Department’s office of education technology.

September 18 Provisions Session: Copyright & Intellectual Property

The September session of Provisions Teaching and Learning Series was titled Teaching with/about Copyright and Intellectual Property.  The three presenters touched upon the changing copyright laws, the college’s specific copyright policy, how they have dealt with the copyright laws in their specific fields, and why we must exercise our fair use rights.

John Ellis, Executive Director of Information Technology Services, started off the presentations by acknowledging the struggle faced by educators that copyright laws present.  The struggle he explained comes when educators must try and maintain a balance between the obligation to abide by the federal copyright laws and the simultaneous obligation to their students to support, not hinder, their academic endeavors.  He spoke about the College of Saint Rose’s copyright policy history, mentioning that it was not until after a few RPI students got hit hard with government fees for illegal file sharing that the college decided a policy needed to be put in place.  The college needed a policy to both protect the institution (students and faculty) and avoid any negative publicity.  John admitted that most people do not get caught for copyright infringement, but gave the analogy and warning that it is like speeding on the highway: people do get caught, and when they do there is a hefty fine.

John noted that the copyright laws have changed and continue to change, and that it is time for the College of Saint Rose to revisit its own policy.  He encouraged any faculty who would like to be part of revising the college’s copyright policy to come to the copyright workshops.  At these workshops, there will be an opportunity to look over the current copyright policy and construct new ways to reinforce and expand the college’s fair use rights.  The workshops will be held at Lally Symposium, and the upcoming workshop dates are:
Tuesday, September 25th at 2pm
and Monday October 1st at 10am.

Ian MacDonald, from the Department of Computer Science, presented on how copyright laws are affecting teaching in the Computer Science field.  Ian discussed how computer programs are copyrightable, which can often be restricting (for instance when you need to have access to a very specific program to view a document), but that the Computer Science field is moving towards an open-source philosophy.  What this means is that there are a range of development tools that are completely free to students, faculty, and developers.  It also means that lectures, class notes, and educational presentations can be made available in open-source formats (some colleges have already begun to do this), which is significant in that anyone around the world can be a student and essentially take these online Computer Science courses for free (minus teacher interaction).  Ian ended his presentation by stating that not all companies are moving towards this open-source philosophy, such as Apple and Microsoft, which is a step backwards.  You can find his presentation slides here: Provisions Presentation 9-18-2012.

Kim Middleton, from the Department of English, began her presentation by describing the “copy-and-paste world” that technology has been ushering us into, as well as the “plagiarism monster” that plagues it.  Part of this copy-and-paste world that Kim addresses is known as video “remix culture,” which has caused an explosion of amateur creativity where there is a re-purposing and appropriation of others’ copyrighted work.  Here you can find the examples she provided of what “remix work” might look like.  One of the most important components of video-remix creation, Kim states, is that the new piece of work fundamentally transformed the copyrighted material, using it for a different purpose, intent, and value than that of the original.  Kim then described a sample three-step project that would help educate students in the best practices of fair use and become more responsible digital citizens.  Step one involved providing the students with fair use information.  Step two involved having students judge whether or not they think specific examples have followed the codes of best practice in fair use.  Step three involved creating their own “remixed” piece which would be followed up by a reflective essay in which they essentially defend their piece with reference to their fair use rights.

Overall, all three presenters made one thing clear when it comes to our fair use rights: we must use them or lose them.

Teaching with/about Copyright and Intellectual Property: Is Fair Use Stealing?

The digital age has brought along with it a debate on copyright laws and whether or not these laws have become unworkable in relation to the availability and popularity of digital technologies.  Many believe copyright laws to be a hindrance to student creativity/productivity, and the question then becomes, by those trying to navigate these restrictive laws, is under what limited circumstances do users’ rights take precedence over owners’ rights, within today’s law?  There seems to be a fine and mystifying line between what can and what will not be deemed as copyright infringement as we enter into the “remix culture,” where combining and editing existing materials to produce a new product has become second nature.

American University’s School of Communication’s Center for Social Media defines fair use as a circumstantial right to quote copyrighted material without asking permission or paying for it.  Their website is an excellent resource for teachers with a host of fair use related materials.  The website provides links to fair use teaching materials and tools, where a teacher can find resources like PowerPoint presentations and in-class discussion questions and exercises.  A teacher can also find a bibliography for fair use codes and best practices of varying media genres, which includes the popular Reclaiming Fair Use: How to Put Balance Back in Copyright by Aufderheide and Jaszi, and an updated blog that touches upon current fair use questions such as the most recent post “Starting the Semester with Fair Use,” where a high school teacher was provided with helpful, linked videos on how he could better explain copyright issues to his students on a particular topic.

Come to Standish A&B at The College of Saint Rose next Tuesday, September 18 from 12PM – 1:15PM to see what our presenters have to say about teaching with/about copyright and intellectual property!