Home > Uncategorized > A Collision Between Changes in Higher Education and Changes in Publishing

A Collision Between Changes in Higher Education and Changes in Publishing

How do you assign readings to a large number of people in a free online course?

I’ve been puzzling over this question this week. I voted against the creation of our online master’s of computer science, and I still have serious reservations about it–particularly about the hastiness of the development plan. But since we’re going ahead with the program, I was thinking maybe I’d offer a class.  (We’re doing it–I might as well help.)  Our model is that classes have a for-credit section for which students pay a low tuition, and a free not-for-credit one (MOOC).  The for-credit students will have access to our library. The free students of course can’t.  So this week I asked what I thought was a simple question: how do we get readings to the MOOC students?

I asked colleagues teaching online classes, administrators, and our library. No one really had an answer.  One colleague suggested the students “will just have to find the reading on their own.”  (That seems like a lawsuit in the making–encouraging copyright infringement.) Another said “I might not assign any reading, since the MOOC students can’t get access to it.”  (Really?  Does the future of higher education involve watching videos and not reading?)

At first I thought, “This is an administrative detail. They’ll figure out a solution.”  But I woke up this morning with another view: there is a collision between potential changes in higher education and changes in publishing.

Open access publishing would solve our problem.  There are more and more demands for publishing to be open access. It seems wrong for federal research dollars to fund work and have the results end up behind a commercial pay wall. Georgia Tech now has a policy requiring faculty to publish in open access venues, though there is as yet no enforcement, there is an easy exception mechanism, and most faculty don’t even know the policy exists. But moving to open access publishing in the future doesn’t solve the problem of how we access materials already published under a for-pay model. (You know–most of the world’s knowledge except a few recent things published open access and a few really old ones in the public domain?  That stuff?) And it doesn’t solve the problem of how publishers stay in business.  I would not want to be a book or music publisher at the moment.

OK, maybe this really is an administrative detail.  Maybe we can ask MOOC students to pay a small fee to get access to licensed readings. (Though as I’ve written before, free is radically different from cheap in a psychological sense.)  We’ll figure something out. But this detail is a symptom of fascinating broader issues. There is a collision between changes in higher education and changes in publishing, and a collision between some changes that are happening at lightning speed and others that will take a decade or more to sort out.

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  1. September 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

    You might have just touched on the future, in your last sentence, in paragraph two.

    I have ties to the publishing industry. I can tell you that they are watching the trends very closely, using reports like Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology, 2012–2017. In particular, they are noticing, and planning for, the increase in video traffic.

    Our personal literary agent is only encouraging us to use videos to promotes books at this time. The publishers will decide what form books will eventually be delivered in. Will that mean that books will BECOME videos? I think you can expect it in some form. How that will look exactly, I don’t know.

    I am the Business & Social Media Mgr. for a best selling technology author. His books are pirated all the time. No reason to believe that book videos would be any different.

  2. September 14, 2013 at 12:34 pm

    I am currently enrolled in a BOOC (big online open course) and it requires the students to gain access to a textbook – either through purchase, online renting, or for me, I got a copy from the GT library. Perhaps the answer is to collect the readings into a single pub (a roll-your-own available from some publishers now) and require they get access (if they are at a school with a decent library or have access to online materials behind paywalls) or purchase.

    • September 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

      Good idea, Bri!

      That will work in some cases but I not all, depending on the course and the instructor. My husband/author is an adjunct instructor at the Univ. of WA. He wrote his own textbook, which is for sale as hard copy only at several online bookstores but is available on Kindle, at Amazon. He tells his students that he would prefer they purchase the hardcopy because he wants them to mark it up, take notes in it, and basically use it as a workbook.

      There is no monetary benefit to him, as the author, for advising them in this way. He simply believes that they stand a stronger chance of doing well in his course with a paper book. It’s an interesting dilemma.

      • September 14, 2013 at 2:33 pm

        Bri, when you refer to “roll-your-own” do you mean obtaining just the required chapters of a book? I heard that Cengage Learning offers this.

  3. Elizabeth Winter
    January 8, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    Elizabeth from the Library chiming in here a bit late (I’m one of two librarians on the CSOMS planning group) There’s a wonderful new service called SIPX (a startup out of Stanford) that I keep trying to get folks interested in. It could solve Georgia Tech’s OMS and MOOC reading problems by managing the rights for course readings (by determining whether a student is an officially enrolled GT student with access to Library resources or whether a person with no official GT affiliation, and then providing the readings free, or at a higher or lower cost, depending on whether they are from subscribed materials or unsubscribed ones–as you would with a digital coursepack). So far, no one has taken the time to understand what SIPX is or (if they do), to say they’ll find some funding for it for us. If you’re interested, I’d love to talk with you more about it: http://www.sipx.com/

    • January 8, 2014 at 2:41 pm

      That sounds like exactly what we need!!

  1. October 21, 2013 at 1:45 am

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