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Partnership with Unizin brings more digitalized course materials

Ohio State, one of the 11 founding investors of the technology consortium Unizin, is pushing the boundary for digital course materials by adding more resources for faculty members who prefer doing things electronically.

Unizin, which was founded by Colorado State University, Indiana University, University of Florida and University of Michigan in June 2014, was created with the purpose of fostering an effective learning environment in an online setting. OSU joined the group last December.

Because of the partnership with Unizin, OSU now has access to shared digital content with other institution members, as well as software tools that can be used in classrooms.

Unizin has recently acquired Courseload, a company that created a software platform called Engage. E-textbooks and course materials can be accessed via Engage, which features many tools to help students collaborate with others and their professors, according to Courseload’s website.

The platform will be called Unizin Engage because of Unizin’s acquisition, and the service will begin rolling out next fall, said Liv Gjestvang, associate vice president of learning technology at OSU. Unizin is securing contracts with major textbook publishers to build an e-textbook library.

Faculty members can search through Engage’s library and make course textbooks available to students, who can buy access to them for a cheaper price than printed textbooks, said Ashley Miller, the program manager of affordability and access at the Office of Distance Education and eLearning. No faculty member is required to use Engage, however.

“I think a lot of my professors are kind of technophobic,” said Kaylee Russell, a fourth-year in English. “Some of them don’t activate Carmen. I couldn’t see them (using Engage).”

OSU is already testing the waters with e-textbooks and currently has a digital store for about 35 titles, and roughly three-fourths of those titles are open source and free to the public. The rest remain relatively inexpensive, with Miller referencing Theatre 2100’s textbook, “The Art of the Now: Introduction to Theatre and Performance,” as an example.

“That book is (about) $28. The digital version is available in all formats; you can read it on your iPad, your phone or your PC,” she said. “That is compared to the conventional textbook which students were using before which is about $127.”

Distributing e-textbooks rather than printed textbooks for typical introductory-level courses can save each student an average of $128 per course, according to a report released by the Student Public Interest Research Groups in February.

Aside from common e-book features like highlighting text and bookmarking pages, students can use Engage to mark parts of the text with questions they have for their instructors, allowing an immediate, personal interaction within the context of the material.

Additionally, students can collaborate with each other by sharing notes directly through Courseload’s service. Faculty members can monitor how the students consume the material and then tailor the course around that data, according to the website.

Some students, like Russell, have said they aren’t particularly excited for the new e-textbook library and that they wouldn’t get too much out of it.

“I guess as a really old-fashioned English major, I prefer to have the book in my hand,” she said. “I know it’d be cheaper to do it (the electronic) way, but I really don’t spend a lot on my books.”

But Michael Schnelzer, a fourth-year in mechanical engineering, said he thinks differently and would prefer having textbooks in a centralized online location, even though he already uses e-textbooks for some of his classes.

“I think that would be great,” he said. “I’m for anything that would save me money, especially on textbooks.”

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