By: Ellen O’Connor

Director of Learning and Teaching Services, Glenn MacDougall is in the process of negotiating with four major textbook publishers to produce electronic copies of their textbooks for Algonquin students.

Put away your credit card and give your shoulders a break. The days of spending hundreds of dollars on stacks of heavy textbooks may be over for Algonquin students. Learning and Teaching Services is embarking on an initiative to provide every student with total access to electronic textbooks at half the price of the print-based version.

With plans to begin next fall, LTS is aiming to have students pay the cost of e-texts and program fees as one package at the beginning of each semester. The textbook costs will be tailored specifically to each program.

“What we’re doing, if we’re able to pull this off and actually do this with over 170 programs at the college, is basically a new model for higher education,” said Glenn MacDougall, director of Learning and Teaching Services. “This has not been done anywhere in North America.”

LTS is currently negotiating with four major publishers, Pearson, Nelson, Wiley and McGraw-Hill, to see if it is possible to provide an electronic copy of all print-based course material. They also want access to other online resources and the digital rights for printing purposes, all at half the cost.

A one-semester pilot program is estimated to start this January with five winter-intake programs: computer engineering technology, computer programming, computer systems technology, business administration and business management and entrepreneurship. It will be 100 per cent subsidized by the publishing companies.

“Working with the publishers we will be providing these students all of their resources in electronic format and they will not have to pay anything,” said MacDougall. “So for the purposes of the pilot, approximately 400 students will receive just over $200,000 worth of textbooks at no charge to themselves.”

Some complaints from students that MacDougall has heard regarding e-texts are that they are leased and automatically deleted off your computer after a certain period of time, and are web-only access. MacDougall has told the publishers they don’t want leasing or web-only access, and do want students to have the ability to print the digital copy if they wish.

“The four publishers we’ve talked to – although we haven’t worked out the final model – agree that yes, we can do this,” said MacDougall.

In the first year that the college bookstore began selling e-texts they sold about 120 to students. This has now grown to almost 1,000, but is still only three to four per cent of textbook purchases, according to Larry Cavanagh, book department supervisor.

While Cavanagh expects the e-text initiative to increase the percentage of students buying e-texts, he said he also finds that many students who purchase an e-text often print the pages anyway as they still want the print experience but at a cheaper cost.

The Algonquin library has also jumped on board the e-book train, having begun their acquisition in 2004.

“Now in the past four or five years we’re finding that there’s more interest in e-books,” said Mahoney.

According to Algonquin’s library circulation statistics, the number of print books checked out has decreased to 16,865 from 27,659 over the past seven years. Mahoney said that faculty and students are increasingly accessing links to the library’s online databases. In 2011 there were 5191 user sessions of EBSCO and 7468 of Safari, Algonquin’s two big e-book databases.

“We are devoting more and more of our budget to electronic offerings,” said Mahoney. “They’re good for us because there’s the sharing. Three campuses can access the materials and after the library’s closed the material is still accessible.”