For American college students, tuition isn't the only expense that can appear insurmountable. Talk to anyone who has ever had to pull out their credit card at the campus book store and you're likely to hear a litany of complains about the excessive cost of college textbooks. It's good to know someone is paying attention.
On the whole, it isn't really surprising that it was Coursera – the for-profit platform for massive online open courses – who was doing the listening and moved to help. After all, the company's goal is reinvent higher education around the world and after offering free courses, offering free textbooks appears to be a logical next step.
Well – mostly free. Students who enroll in MOOCs offered on Coursera would get access to college textbooks from publishers like Macmillan Higher Education, Oxford University Press, SAGE and Wiley, but they won't get to keep them. Books will be available on e-readers but students won't be able to print or download them. They would also lose access to them once the MOOC concludes.
Chegg, the textbook rental company will be providing the platform to bring the texts to the students.
Koller said the agreement will help instructors who felt restricted in what they could require students to read. She also said it will help publishers market full versions of their books to those interested in buying them.
Koller says that the arrangement will bring significant benefits to students who don't have the income to purchase college texts. In other words, the same income group that Koller hopes will most benefit from MOOCs – those for whom a traditional higher education diploma might be more of economically unachievable pipe dream.
But she said there would be significant benefit for a global learning community that has flocked to free online education.
"So many of our students really can't afford the price of a textbook," Koller said. For many, she said, "even a $30 or $40 e-book is the cost of a month or two of wages."
At least one MOOC professor is applauding the new agreement between Coursera, Chegg and the textbook publishers. Cynthia L. Selfe, who teachers English at Ohio State University and is part of the faculty group that leads Writing II: Rhetorical Composing which started on Coursera this spring, the arrangement will benefit her students once she's able to add books from Bedford/St. Martin's in the coming weeks.
"Remember, this is a course offered for free," Selfe said. "You can imagine that many of the people might not have access to a lot of the learning resources they might want or need."