UCR’s e-book program will free students of a major financial burden

Courtesy of Pixabay
Courtesy of Pixabay

Due to the high costs students have to deal with when it comes to purchasing textbooks for their courses (on average, $1,700 per student per academic year), UCR launched the Affordable Course Material Initiative (ACMI) in fall 2015. ACMI, which is a program that encourages the use of either free or low-cost online materials (including e-books) for courses, is estimated to have saved UCR students over $500,000 since it was activated.

The advantages of classes being taught with e-books and other online materials are an incredibly important aspect of the usefulness of this program, which this editorial board strongly endorses. E-books, being electronic, provide a significant environmentalist motive for use instead of traditional paper textbooks. They are inherently portable, being stored on computers or whatever other electronic devices students use, as opposed to bulky and heavy paper textbooks that weigh students down when transported. Physical textbooks can be lost or damaged, requiring their replacement, while e-books and online materials can more than likely be infinitely replaced or downloaded on multiple devices, making them accessible in many places.

Most important, though, is obviously the price difference between e-books and physical textbooks. More than one student has had to make the tough choice between eating or getting a required textbook — a choice that makes a program like ACMI highly valuable and necessary. With tuition as high as it is (and increasing again), and student loans burdening two-thirds of graduates from public universities, the cost of textbooks is often an unjustifiable expense; hence, only a third of students actually buy their needed textbooks. Thus, any effort by UCR (or any other college) to reduce the costs students must pay for their books each quarter is essential for students’ quality of life and learning. 

…e-books and online materials can more than likely be infinitely replaced or downloaded on multiple devices, making them accessible in many places

Certain issues do arise by pushing an online-centered textbook system, which must be addressed before UCR (or any other college) can transition to such a system. First, a student at least needs some kind if e-reader, if not a laptop, for using e-books to be feasible; a phone is really not sufficient to handle course materials online. However, not every student has — nor can afford — a laptop, and such electronic devices are a much better target for theft than, and are just as susceptible to damage or loss, as a paper textbook. So, any push for classes to be run mostly or entirely with online materials needs to be accompanied by a program to make laptops more accessible to all students.

Second, e-books generally can not be resold, unlike physical textbooks, which limits students’ ability to recover the expense from their purchase. In particular, no one wants to be stuck with unsellable textbooks from their breadth courses, which they will never touch again after passing the class. There really is no solution to this problem, as UCR cannot change the policy of publishers who put out electronic resources, although use of exclusively free materials does negate this problem handily, and books related to one’s major might see use after graduation.

Third, by requiring use of electronic devices in class (which goes hand-in-hand with requiring use of online materials in class), professors will have to deal with the simple fact that many students will take that as an opportunity to waste time on Facebook rather than pay attention to the actual material. Frankly, such distraction is already a concern, and it can only get worse if classes become more heavily based on use of online material during lectures. In order to lessen the number of cases where students use their electronic devices for blatant non-educational purposes during class, perhaps professors should be permitted additional authority to temporarily confiscate the devices of such offenders, or be able to monitor the number of people on the appropriate page of whatever online resource is supposed to be in use. Of course, such powers would need to be limited in order to preserve the right to privacy of the students.

Alongside these major issues with the implementation of an online-focused curriculum across this campus, there are a few minor issues that are also easily addressed. If, for example, there are professors who do not permit use of electronic devices in their class, then policy should be changed so that, provided that the course utilizes some form of electronic textbook or other online resource, any student should be permitted to use their devices during lectures. Also, considering that many students prefer hard copies of books for their personal use, professors should not make the use of an electronic version mandatory.

Policies such as ACMI are critical to alleviating the financial costs students have to bear when it comes to buying textbooks. Since digital media is the future, the Highlander endorses the continued use and the expansion of ACMI for the benefit of the students of UCR, and to serve as a trailblazer for the other UCs.

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