The price tag for obtaining a college degree is at an all-time high, but this is not the only financial burden for today’s college student.
According to a 2011 report by the College Board, a non-profit organization for college success, an average student at a four-year public college should expect to spend over $1,000 a year on textbooks and other course materials.
The price of textbooks has constantly been pushed upwards. But can technology reverse this direction by transforming the classroom?
It is not unusual that the world of technology has had relevance specifically to education – college students are not strangers to educational applications such as e-Textbooks or CourseSmart that become cost-saving strategies. However, the push for merging technology into the classroom is now coming from a higher level.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on September 27 that will create a website where students are able to download popular articles as well as required college and university textbooks.
One of the new laws, Senate Bill 1052, will give students free digital access to 50 widely used lower division textbooks and develop the California Open Education Resources Council. Senate Bill 1053, will create the California Digital Open Source Library that will house free electronic books and other course materials.
The first free books will be available by the start of the 2013-2014 school year.
Amanda Dickey, 20, a junior at CSUN who studies business marketing, said that she spends more than $300 a semester on her books and she usually can’t buy used textbooks.
“Once, I sold back a book I bought for $140 and I got $60 back,” Dickey said. “They need to stop changing textbooks every year because that’s the reason they are expensive.”
John Thai works for Senator Darrell Steven Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and said the main purposes of the bills were first and foremost to provide affordable textbooks for college students.
“Technology is used to reduce the cost for students who need the materials to learn,” Thai said.
Thai also said that current laws and the new bills have created a bidding system between the publishers that want to provide the material, and a quality measure will be established to enhance good materials.
“If there is a new edition out, publishers have to state what the differences are between the new and previous edition so they can’t raise the price for arbitrary changes,” Thai said.
Amy Berger, the director at CSUN Matador Bookstore, said Matador bookstore supports open educational resources.
“But, the initiative should recognize that economic barriers and restricted access could prevent students from benefitting from digital formatted content,” Berger said.
Phil Kim, the Chief Financial Officer of the Twenty Million Mind Foundation, said availability of Internet connection at campuses and today’s lower cost of technology helps lessen the digital divide issue.
“Computers now are so inexpensive that you can buy a computer for less than $400,” Kim said. “That’s the price of two textbooks.”
Kim’s organization was one of the pioneers to push for a higher education textbook library in an open platform.
“It opens up the door to a more interactive learning, adaptive learning and assessment,” Kim said.
Kim said that the future is digital and within five or six years, most textbooks will be obsolete.
But some students still want to have hard copies as an option.
Laura Jimenez, 19, a sophomore biology major, said that constantly reading online hurts her eyes and students are not able to highlight or write on pages.
“I also think hardcopy is better in case there is a technology problem or an emergency,” Jimenez said.
Bobbie Eisenstock, a journalism professor at CSUN, created a website for her students two years ago so she could make course materials and resources more accessible. She said that it also improves student’s comprehension of the course.
“I have found that selecting course materials from online sources allows me to include different types of resources that better cater to individual learning styles,” Eisenstock said.
She added that Brown’s new legislation would help to further expand many educational opportunities as well as facilitate learning.
“Making textbooks available to students free of charge online or for a small fee as hard copy is invaluable and critical to education,” Eisenstock said. “Particularly with the cost of higher public education increasing every year.”
Additionally, having textbooks online will also make it more accessible and democratic for stuadents.
“New-user-generated media is also enabling a different kind of participatory digital culture where students can collaborate with one another in ways never before possible,” said Eisenstock.
But some fear too much dependency on technology.
Jacek Polewczak, a math professor at CSUN said that use of technology in the classroom is a complicated issue.
“A lot of technology is helpful, especially for math,” said Polewczak, “but it is still not clear how it can be best developed in the classroom.”
Polewczak also said we need to remember that this is a push from businesses and we need to be careful that education doesn’t become more commodified between different groups wanting to benefit from it.