Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Online textbooks offer new solution to the price tag of higher education

By Katherine Owen

Staff Reporter

In the midst of a nationwide conversation about the student debt crisis, students face another burden in achieving higher education: the price of college textbooks.

“Usually, scholarships cover priorities, and books are often at the bottom of that list, after tuition and housing,” said Connor Fox, a sophomore majoring in public relations. “Despite scholarships, the cost of textbooks is overlooked, yet overwhelming.”

Fox said he was shocked buying textbooks for this fall, paying $300 for one book alone.

Boundless is part of a new industry offering offering free, online textbooks that are compiled from Open Educational Resources.

“Over the past fifteen years, we’ve seen an explosion of high quality, openly licensed and free educational content,” Ariel Diaz, co-founder and CEO of Boundless, said.

Diaz said the content comes from “leading educators, institutions and governments.” When students sign up, they are asked for their course and book information, which Boundless uses to match students to available content.

Boundless currently offers textbooks in eight subjects: writing, sociology, psychology, economics, business, U.S. history, biology, anatomy and physiology.

“Boundless has gotten warm reception from both educators and students so far,” Diaz said. “Overall, many teachers and professionals are sensitive to the price of textbooks and are eager to provide high-quality alternatives.”

Stevan Marcus, a UA associate professor of biological sciences, said he has noticed how expensive textbooks can be.

“In principle, I see no problem in moving towards online textbooks. Indeed, the textbook we use for Principles of Biology I and II is available as an e-book,” Marcus said. “While still expensive, it’s significantly less expensive than the hardcover version.”

Fox said he likes the cost-effectiveness of the idea, but isn’t sure about other aspects.

“I don’t like losing the option to use a physical text,” Fox said. “Honestly, it depends on what type of learner you are. A lot of people are comfortable without it, but I feel having a physical text in front of me to highlight and annotate is more effective than using a digital one.”

Boundless has taken note and offered their solution.

“What makes Boundless particularly special is its ability to enhance the learning experience,” Diaz said. “Our platform allows students to take notes, highlight important passages, and instantly search for key concepts.”

Janek Wasserman, an assistant history professor at UA, said he understands the move toward online textbooks in order to save money, time and trees but is concerned about the consistency of the still-evolving approach.

“Note taking, for example, is still a confusing process at this juncture,” Wasserman said. “While a lot of textbooks allow for highlighting and annotating, printed texts still seem to possess an advantage in this area.”

Wasserman puts copies of the textbooks for his classes on reserve in the library to help ease the burden for students.

“For me, I am trying to rethink my introductory courses so that perhaps no textbook – either printed or online – will be necessary,” Wasserman said. “The issue, then, is how to find either online materials or less expensive books that can provide the students with the necessary knowledge that we want them to acquire.”

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