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Comment Online Textbooks Just Aren't ready (Score 5, Insightful) 468

I'm working on my PhD in History, and to help pay the bills I teach both classroom and online history courses. The institution I teach online courses for recently moved from requiring students to purchase the course text to providing them an online version with the class, while offering students the option to purchase custom hard copies. Students can purchase the full, hardback, color version, can select monochrome versions, or get paperback or plastic comb bindings. Sounds great, right?

Not so much.

The vendor provides students with a login ID and password for each student to use, which gets them access to the book for six months after the end of the course. The textbook website has integrated learning tools, skills assessments, maps, images, audio and video, etc... along with the text, which is properly paginated to go with my desk copy. Again, this stuff all sounds great. In practice, there are problems.

Students complain that it takes them double or triple the time to do their reading. Sending them login ID and password was a catastrophe, because they were provided by email, and not all students gave us the correct email address or knew that they had a school-supplied email address. This led the school to just embed a link to the text in our courses, which killed much of the interactivity built into the online text.

This ignores other problems. Student computer type and age, patch level, apps, skill level, whether they have their own machine, comfort with updating their computer, etc... have a huge effect on whether a student can successfully use an online text. I teach students that range from high school age into their sixties. Most of them are not comfortable troubleshooting problems, communicating problems, or even understanding that they have a problem. There are students whose parents won't let them install Flash or other media players on the family PC.

Unless Schwarzenegger is talking about providing all students with a Kindle DX (in color) or some similar device with free wireless broadband to access their texts, we're talking about huge administrative burdens, tech support burdens, and even financial burdens for families. The support ecosystem is just just not available for most folks to successfully use an online text for all of their courses.

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