Why can’t they leave well enough alone?

25 11 2011

Thanks to Audrey Watters, I think I’ve found the absolute worst edtech idea ever. It’s called Courseload and here’s the pitch:

If you don’t have the stomach or the time to watch the whole video, I don’t blame you. Therefore, here’s the short version, as Audrey explains it:

But there’s an interesting twist with Courseload: schools that adopt its platform require students to pay, as part of their tuition fees, for their course materials. That means there’s no opting out of buying textbooks. There’s no looking for cheaper, used books. There’s no sharing the cost burden with your roommates. There’s no looking elsewhere for a better deal.

And when your school bookstore collapses (or at least becomes nothing but a branded clothing retailer) Courseload and their publishers can crank up the costs as much as they want.

Now let’s look specifically at the company’s pitch to get professors:

Courseload’s faculty dashboard enables new ways to teach and understand how students learn with real-time analytics and note sharing. Choose any textbook, workbook, article, publication, or video you like; we can handle it. Want to incorporate multimedia materials into your courses? We can do that too. Digital course materials provide the ultimate flexibility for instruction.

I have trouble believing that they can get the rights to digitize any book I might want to assign, but let’s assume they do. What if I don’t want all my students tapping on their phones and laptops during class since they could spend the whole period on Facebook and I wouldn’t be any wiser? What if I can provide media content myself at a much cheaper price?

Besides, logistical complications are almost inevitable: What’s the turn around time between submission and loading? Do you write your syllabi at the last minute? How much earlier will you have to get everything ready now that there’s a money-sucking parasite wedged between you and your students?

Why can’t they leave well-enough alone? Money, of course. This is my transcript of the above promotional clip, from about two minutes in:

“But there’s a whole second wave of cost reduction that’s possible. Right now, the proportion of proprietary content that’s used on college campuses is very high, and proprietary content is the highest cost. Schools are interested in using more open-source content and self-generated content which has become much more plentiful in the digital era, and that content is lower cost. So over time, schools would like to see the proportion of high-cost proprietary content go down, the proportion of lower-cost content go up, so there may be that second wave of cost-reduction for students over time.”

So they’re going to use a problem that faculty did not create, the high cost of college, as a wedge to destroy your prerogatives as an instructor. Sounds like The Shock Doctrine for higher education to me.

Update: For additional analysis by me about Courseload, click here.




5 responses

28 11 2011
What if disrupting education isn’t such a hot idea after all? « More or Less Bunk

[…] don’t? After all, it seems as if for every wonderful innovation like Zotero, there’s a Courseload out there […]

29 11 2011


Perhaps if you actually made the effort to obtain answers to the questions that you pose before beginning your rant, you might actually learn something (after all, you are in the education business, no?). But that would be too simple.

To assist you and the few readers of this blog, here are some outtakes from the Indiana University announcement discussing their 3 1/2 agreement with Courseload:
IU student leaders have expressed their support for the new agreements and their potential for significant cost-savings.

“Current eText offerings often cost more than used books or rentals, have too many restrictions and often expire after a limited period of use,” said Corey Ariss, undergraduate student president at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. “IU’s eText approach solves many of these problems, and the ability to search and annotate a text is excellent.”

Justin Kingsolver, president of the IU Student Association in Bloomington, said, “IUSA is proud to lend our support to this initiative because of its commitment to cutting textbook costs to IU students and maintaining a proactive approach to sustainability issues.”

The IU agreements evolved from a formal RFP purchasing process that followed two years of pilot-testing eTexts with students and faculty. The publishers are able to provide a substantial discount (65% – 70% off of print list prices) and reduced eText restrictions in exchange for a much lower, guaranteed eText fee from each student who is enrolled in a course section that adopts a particular eText. IU has adopted a similar model in terms of software agreements it has made with Adobe and Microsoft.

Students will know at the time of enrollment if a particular course section uses an eText and will be able to view their eTexts alongside the course syllabus, calendar and other course tools.

Joshua Davis, an IU Bloomington senior from Ohio, participated in the eText pilot as part of his astronomy course. “Using eTexts was an entirely new experience for me,” he said, “but the Courseload software in Oncourse was simple to learn and provided an efficient way for me to keep my notes organized for class. I was able to access my textbook remotely, both online and offline — plus, I didn’t have to lug another heavy book around campus. I just purchased my textbooks for fall and spent around $800. I think this transition can’t happen soon enough.”

As for innovation, are you still using scrolls and writing in Latin, or have you advanced to texts produced during the Age of Enlightenment?

Seriously, those whose minds are closed to new, yet proven, ideas and who reside in academia are failing to serve their students. This approach saves the average student $600 per school year (and yes, that includes formerly purchasing a mix of new and used textbooks, and selling some of them after the course is finished). $600 is REAL MONEY to most students.

Like it or not, etextbooks are replacing the bookstores that have been raping students for over a century, and I am glad for it!

29 11 2011
Jonathan Rees


What exactly have I gotten wrong about Courseload? What factual errors have I made?

I understand that students expect to save money…for now. I want to know about the nitty-gritty from the faculty’s perspective.

29 11 2011

Then contact the company and ask them about it. That’s what a good researcher or reporter would do. And don’t extrapolate and report as facts a perspective based solely on conjecture.

Hope this perspective is helpful to informing your viewpoint.

30 11 2011
Heavy student backpacks haven’t gone anywhere yet. « More or Less Bunk

[…] “Diogenes” wrote in the comments of my post on Courseload that if I had a problem with what that company did, then I should contact the company and talk to […]

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