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Campus to adopt e-textbooks

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JANUARY 22, 2012

In an effort to cut down on the cost of textbooks for students, UC Berkeley will subsidize electronic textbooks for students in several courses next fall through an online pilot program.

Eight faculty members have agreed to use electronic textbooks provided by the McGraw-Hill publishing company to teach their courses as part of the pilot program, which is projected to cost the campus between $5,000 and $20,000 next fall depending on the number of courses that will use the textbooks, according to Shelton Waggener, associate vice chancellor and chief information officer for the campus.

“The goal is not to save the university money but to save students money while keeping Berkeley at the forefront of the evolving educational experiences enabled by innovating technology,” Waggener said in an email.

Students enrolled in participating classes will be able to gain access to the electronic texts through Courseload, an online platform that will enable students to share and download content to any electronic device. Students who prefer hard copies of textbooks will still have the option to purchase or rent books separately, according to Waggener.

In November 2011, the campus joined other colleges around the country including Indiana University, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities, University of Virginia, Cornell University and University of Wisconsin-Madison, which were evaluating ways to adopt electronic textbooks into their campuses.

The campus then reached an agreement with Courseload and McGraw-Hill along with the other campuses to begin a pilot program for the fall 2012, according to Waggener, who collaborated with Vice Provost for Teaching, Learning, Academic Planning and Facilities Cathy Koshland in the decision to participate in the project.

The two companies were selected as the default platform and content providers “based on their innovative approaches to addressing this problem and willingness to design a pilot with the participating schools,” Waggener said in the email.

According to the platform’s website, students see up to a 70 percent reduction in the cost of new textbooks once they switch to e-books. But the amount UC Berkeley students would save on the textbooks remains to be determined, since the textbooks will only be provided by McGraw-Hill in the pilot program.

The overall reaction to the pilot so far has been positive, and the campus will continue to work out the long-term project details, including the electronic content’s availability period, after having assessed and evaluated the success of this limited pilot, according to Waggener.

The pilot’s content will be available to students for the duration of their enrollment at the campus and will be accessible through bSpace. Students will have the option of printing up to 30 pages of content at a time or of printing the entire content and having it shipped to them for $30, he added.

The campus is also looking into other programs and publishers to partner with in the fall for e-books — including the Cafescribe program provided through the campus bookstore partner Follett — and finding courses to participate in the pilot in time for schedule planning for the fall.

This year has seen a shift toward increasing the availability of online technology for students through a number of software deals between the campus and high-profile technology companies through the campus cost-cutting Operational Excellence initiative.



Contact Afsana Afzal at 


JANUARY 22, 2012