· What is the Course Materials Initiative (CMI)?
Students in a participating course/section are provided with their faculty selected course materials in a digital format (with print options available). The digital course materials include ebooks and ancillaries such as WebAssign, Aplia and ALEKS, if applicable, from publishers under contract with UMBC. The course materials are integrated into Blackboard, UMBC’s learning management system, via VitalSource (the common digital platform), for all courses and sections participating. A course materials charge is included on the student bill when they have registered for a participating course.
· Why did UMBC introduce the Course Materials Initiative?
As public pressure continues to mount about the challenges of college costs, federal, state and the USM Board of Regents have enacted laws and policies to specifically reduce the cost of textbooks. The various laws and policies encourage exploring more options for lower cost course materials, including digital materials. UMBC’s Bookstore has tried various options, including textbook rentals, developing a textbook buying guide, and collaborating with faculty for timely textbook adoption, with limited success in reducing costs significantly. CMI was identified as a path to make greater reductions in course material costs. It is intended to provide a broader group of students with cost savings ranging from 15 to 55%, depending on the textbooks and ancillary materials selected with an average savings of 34%. There is also a sense that digital content is the direction the course materials providers are heading, as well as some Maryland public school systems, and it would be helpful to be ahead of that curve.
· How does CMI work?
Based on faculty textbook adoptions, the Bookstore, with its consultant, identifies the price per the contracts with the publishers to identify those courses with potential for savings to students. Once the draft list of courses is compiled, Bookstore staff contact the applicable Program Directors/Coordinators and individual faculty members to ask if they choose to have their course participate in CMI; based on the faculty decisions, the list of courses participating in CMI is finalized. Orientation for faculty is offered through the Division of Information Technology on the use and available functionality features of the digital platform; a faculty orientation video is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRmi7On3cWI. Any faculty member who is interested in his/her course(s) participating in CMI, can send an email directly to Bob Somers at the Bookstore at email@example.com.
All students registering for those courses will receive direct communication about the CMI program; and, CMI information is incorporated in the registration materials including course descriptions in PeopleSoft. Students also have a choice of whether to obtain their course materials via CMI or from another source; students have until the end of the add/drop period to make their decision.
· How do students access their course materials?
Students access them via single sign-in on Blackboard, which includes a link to VitalSource’s bookshelf. Students can download their e-books to their computer, as well as multiple devices for off-line access. The agreements with publishers gives students access to their e-textbook for three years (3), and the ancillaries, such as Aleks or WebAssign, for 1 – 2 years, allowing for course retakes, and use of materials for connected next course segments. If, for any reason, a student encounters difficulty with their content, the Bookstore is available during business hours, and there is 24/7 on-line technical support available. If a student drops the class during UMBC’s add/drop period, the CMI charge will be refunded. If a student drops the class after the allowed add/drop date, they will not receive a refund, but will be able to maintain access to the course materials through their VitalSource account.
· How do students pay for their course materials in CMI?
A number of questions and concerns have been raised under this theme. First, charges for course materials provided through CMI are added to a student’s regular tuition and fee bill. Students may pay in the same ways they can pay their regular bills, including applying financial aid and scholarship funds to the charges. No sales tax is added for the materials, as digital content is exempt from Maryland sales tax. Students have access to their e-textbook for three years, which provides for course retakes and for follow-on sequences that use the same textbook. Students also receive access to ancillary materials, like Aleks and WebAssign, for 1 to 2 years, depending on the individual providers.
· What if a student prefers a physical textbook?
There are three print options available to students. The first option is to print up to ten pages per login, at no other cost than the cost of paper and ink. The second option is to purchase a print on demand copy from the publisher via VitalSource for an additional fee. Acceptable forms of payment are limited to debit cards and credit cards. The third option is print copies available for free on reserve in the UMBC library.
Students also may opt out of CMI by completing a form at the Bookstore. They may then purchase their course materials from another source in any format available.
· What if a faculty member wants to use a custom textbook?
In many cases the publishers can convert custom textbooks to the digital format. If this cannot be done, the course will not be included in CMI.
· What are some of the functionality features that are available?
Students can highlight, take notes, copy/paste and share notes. They also have “Inside the Book” features such as “go to page”, table of contents navigation, page layout changes and multiple viewing options. Assistive technology features include ability to have the book read to the student and changing font sizes.
Functionality available to faculty includes ability to connect chapters to the syllabus, create highlights for the entire class, and obtain summary data on pages viewed, highlights, annotations, etc.
· What do students think about this program?
The Student Government Association has been very supportive of CMI, and encouraged the Bookstore to proceed with the pilot program for Spring 2016. At that time, the then SGA President, Anthony Jankoski, provided the Bookstore with a letter of endorsement of CMI which is available on the Bookstore website (http://bookstore.umbc.edu/SiteImages/9-SchoolImages/9-site/9-CMIMemo.jpg).
In addition, a survey of students enrolled in courses in the Spring that used CMI was conducted in early March. Out of a total of 2,520 students enrolled, 554 responses were received. When asked if they would like to see CMI used in other courses, 61 percent said yes, 18 percent said no, and 21 percent were unsure. There was a great deal of additional information obtained through the survey, and it will be used to improve communication and instructions regarding CMI.
An article in The Retriever Weekly on 3/7/16 noted some concerns with the CMI and concluded that students should be allowed to opt out. As noted above, beginning in Fall 2016, due to a change in federal law, students may opt out of CMI by completing a form at the Bookstore. They may then purchase their course materials in any format available.