If the prospect of playing Angry Birds or having instant access to thousands of books hasn’t already convinced students to invest in e-readers, saving money on University textbooks might do the trick.

University Dean of Libraries Paul Courant introduced the Campus eTextbook Initiative in front of the Senate Advisory Committee on University Affairs yesterday. The initiative, which is a collective effort of the Office of the Provost, University Libraries and Information and Technological Services, is focused on lowering the cost of textbooks for lecture courses with an average enrollment of more than 100 students.

The University is currently negotiating a deal with e-textbook providers, and administrators hope to launch a pilot program in the fall 2012 term, Courant said. Currently, the planners are looking for several hundred professors to participate in next year’s program.

Courant called the rising cost of college textbooks a “public textbook crisis,” noting that some students pay up to $1,000 a term for their books.

“Candidly, we want to go after those profits on behalf of our students,” Courant said, speaking about the money textbook companies make off student sales.

Courant told the lead faculty governing body that if the initiative is implemented, a student registered for a lecture would pay a $45 fee to gain access to the class’s texts, with the option to buy a hard copy of the text for an additional $20 to $35. By charging a fee, the University would be able to sell e-textbooks to students at about 35 percent of the regular price. Students would be able to download the books onto an e-reader or print the pages out, Courant said.

University Provost Philip Hanlon said at yesterday’s meeting that the plan might save the University money since financial aid packages, which factor in the cost of textbooks, would shift to reflect the lower cost.

In addition to saving students money on textbooks, the initiative would include an open courseware component. Open courseware allows Internet users to view the content of a course, which would alleviate the cost of some course materials for University students, Courant said. Several universities, including Yale University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, already offer open courseware content.

Courant added that the initiative would allow students to have continued access to course texts and lectures even after they graduate. SACUA Chair Kate Barald asked if students would have access to updated texts, which Courant said was an option the planners would explore.

Beside benefiting students and the University’s budget, the program poses advantages for faculty, according to Courant. With access to a wider range of materials, professors could tailor course content to better achieve their pedagogical goals, he said. By linking pre-recorded lectures to the online books, Courant said professors would be able to diversify the content of their course since they could spend less time lecturing.

The initiative would encourage University professors to contribute their excess materials, like lecture notes for an introductory course, to the open courseware, Courant added.

In winter 2011, the eTextbook Working Group tested a similar pilot program — a forerunner to the Campus eTextbook Initiative — that gathered feedback from students and professors. Student participants had mixed reactions to the program, and Courant said the planners took the students’ concerns into account when they were creating the new initiative.

The planners of the initiative took many cues from Indiana University when designing the program, according to Courant. In fall 2009, IU began to implement an e-textbook model similar to the University’s proposed initiative.

Courant added that he hopes a consortium of universities — like the Committee on Institutional Cooperation which includes the universities in the Big Ten and the University of Chicago — will be involved in negotiations with e-textbook companies.

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