CourseSmart, the publishing industry's e-textbook provider, acquired by Vital Source

CourseSmart, the e-textbook provider backed by the academic publishing industry, is acquired by the platform Vital Source.

Textbook prices still crippling students, report says

Report, citing crippling textbook costs, argues for more use of open-source materials. Publishers dispute the findings.

Study links tenure criteria to long-term professor performance

Department chairs report professor incompetence in their institutions when administrative checks to tenure process are lacking, and the process favors publishing quantity over quality, new study finds.

Historians clash over open access movement

Supporters of open access and traditional publishing models clash during the American Historical Association's annual meeting.

Federal judge rules Google's digitization effort falls under fair use

A federal judge rules Google's massive digitization efforts falls under the "fair use" doctrine, marking another loss for copyright advocates.

University press uses social media to increase brand loyalty

University Press of Kentucky is giving free e-books to readers who purchase hard copies.

Consulting editor

Date Announced: 
Wed, 10/30/2013

Essay on shift from print to digital

Here we are. One year in.

It’s been almost 12 months since I wrote, to the dismay of some and the excitement of many, that the higher education industry must do everything in its power to complete the shift from print to digital in 36 months.

If we’re serious about improving outcomes for our students, we need to make sure the digital transition happens — and happens soon. As I wrote last year, "I’m not talking about a slight or even gradual increase in e-book adoptions... I’m talking about a total transition from a reliance on print textbooks to a full embrace of digital content and learning systems."

For the most part, I’ve been encouraged by the response to the article – from educators, from the industry, and from the hallways of my own company. Yes, I’ve been told a few times that we shouldn’t view technology as a panacea (I don’t), but by far the most common reaction I heard was, "Three years, sounds great!”

Then: "Too bad there’s no way we can pull it off."

Oh ye of little faith.

With 12 months down and 24 to go until my suggested “digital deadline,” let’s take a look at how much progress we’ve made, how far we still have to go, and what I think the next 12 months will hold for the industry on the journey to our digital future.

Why Digital? Why Now?

The reasons why we need to keep our foot on the gas as we move toward our digital future are clear: Our students aren’t graduating with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful, but they are leaving college with plenty of debt, and in many cases, no degree at all.

As a result, students are turning their backs on higher education. The New York Times recently reported that college enrollment fell 2 percent in 2012-13, and that in 2013-2014: “traditional four-year, nonprofit colleges [will] begin a contraction that will last for several years.” While I fully support the idea of different pathways to success, I don’t think that a major shift away from higher education is good for our students – or our country.

These challenges are complex, but they can be addressed – at least in part – by digital. In addition to improving access and affordability, digital can help instructors deliver the type of personalized learning experiences that have the potential to not only boost engagement but make real improvements in grades and graduation rates. If this type of technology exists, why aren’t we doing everything possible to bring it into every classroom in the country?

At McGraw-Hill Higher Education, we’ve seen usage of two of our biggest digital products, LearnSmart and Connect, increase year-over-year by 43 percent and 29 percent, respectively. We’ve also invested more than $130 million in digital R&D over the past year. And before you say, "You’re only making that investment because you expect a return," let me say that you’re exactly right. Our biggest chance to achieve success as a company is to help instructors and students achieve success. People pay for results, and digital can help drive those results. It’s that simple. And we’re not the only education-focused company making such investments or seeing increased interest in digital products.

"Are We There Yet?" A Year in Review – and a Look Ahead

Last year, I cited a number of trends that illustrate one simple concept: technology is becoming a bigger part of our students’ lives. These trends continue: A July report from Wakefield Research revealed that 99 percent of current students have at least one digital device and 68 percent use at least three devices each day.

But more interesting, I think, is the acceptance of big data in higher education as a positive, disruptive force. Not only have we seen more colleges take a data-driven approach to improving student outcomes, we’ve seen data capture the popular imagination. Just take a look at Nate Silver, the statistician who accounted for nearly 20 percent of the web traffic of The New York Times leading up to the 2012 presidential election.

Ed tech has made similar strides. In general, today's technology is more needs-focused, more thoroughly driven by data and research, and provides a user experience that, if not quite on par with what’s offered by the consumer tech world already, has narrowed the gap considerably.

We’ve also seen adaptive learning become a household term. Not only did the industry’s adaptive learning products become better thanks to system refinements and more student data, but we also saw adaptive technology reach into new areas of the learning experience, including e-books and virtual labs.

It’s also quickly gaining the confidence of educators. A 2013 Inside Higher Ed survey revealed that 66 percent of college and university presidents see the potential of adaptive learning to make a positive impact on higher education. And while presidents and faculty members don’t always see eye-to-eye on every use of technology, Inside Higher Ed’s survey of faculty members on technology found that 61 percent of instructors believe that adaptive learning has great potential to have a positive impact on higher education. With more data, more applications, better user experiences, and demonstrated efficacy, I think that greater usage of adaptive learning is the biggest lock of 2013-14.

And then, of course: MOOCs. It seems hard to believe now, but my first article one year ago made not one single mention of MOOCs. MOOCs have been a major story for the past year, for better and for worse. The future of MOOCs is still very much unwritten, but the important thing is that we saw a come-from-nowhere technology disrupt higher education, and instead of running away from it, many colleges decided to embrace it.

Over the next year, the hype around MOOCs may fade a bit, but their quality and credibility will increase. MOOCs shouldn't be faulted for not always living up to everyone's hopes in Year 1. Now, with the spotlight a little dimmer, we'll see them better-position students for success by integrating results-driving technologies like adaptive learning and ultimately become a more viable alternative for higher education.

Finally, we've seen institutions use technology to help rethink the very idea of how a higher education institution should operate. I love how Southern New Hampshire University is using technology to shift to a competency-based model, and I expect many more institutions to follow suit over the next year. We've only just started realizing how technology can impact not just the learning experience but the entire structure of the educational system. We might even see top students earning degrees in as little as a year. It’s amazing how the digital transformation can accelerate when colleges begin to think about technology as an organization.

The Road Ahead

When I think about what stands in the way of the shift to digital, I keep coming back to seven deadly words: "We’ve never done it that way before." It’s a type of thinking that is, unfortunately, still too common in education, and one that we must break away from in order to move forward. Because if we hold on to the past we must realize that we're holding onto something that's broken.

One thing, however, should not change, and that's the importance of instructors. There are some who see an inverse relationship between teaching and technology; who believe that adopting technology necessarily means marginalizing the role of the instructor. I just don't see this to be the case. Technology's goal is to help instructors provide more efficient, effective instruction. It's the means, not the end.

A few more things I think we’ll see over the next 12 months:

  • Major learning companies offering some print products only through a custom or "on demand" model. I can say for sure that this will be the case at McGraw-Hill Higher Education. And one day in the not-so-distant future, we won’t offer those print products at all.
  • New models for affordable, accredited education. MOOCs won't be the only game in town, as a slate of new players will find a way to deliver high quality, low cost (but not free) higher education that leads to a degree.
  • More colleges institutionalizing data collection and analysis. These capabilities can't be developed overnight, but in 2013-2014, we'll pass the tipping point of colleges and universities using data to drive what we at McGraw-Hill Education refer to as The Big 3: results, recruitment and retention.
  • The continued relevance of content. As Peter Kafka of AllThingsD recently tweeted: “Tech guy to content guy: You're screwed! Now, please help me build my business.” Even the best technology in the world still must be paired with trusted, proven content in order to be effective, and I think the future of our industry belongs to companies who can provide the best of both worlds.

Twenty-four months out from the digital deadline, our progress is good. As an industry, we have a clear understanding of the problems we face and how digital technology can help solve them, and there’s a general spirit of collaboration among colleges, learning companies and start-ups that is moving us, together, in the right direction. It’s inspiring, and it’s something I can’t say I’ve ever felt before.

They say that you never notice change happening and then one day it just hits you. Consider this your friendly 24-month warning.

Brian Kibby is president of McGraw-Hill Higher Education.

Editorial Tags: 

Australia to invest $12 million to create national scholarly press

Australia's Labor Party and university presses to jointly fund the creation of the Australian Universities Press to support scholarly monographs and books.

Essay on 'link rot'

Among the duties of the Judicial Conference -- an august body consisting of federal judges, overseen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court -- is the fostering of “uniformity of management procedures and the expeditious conduct of court business.” And so it was that, four year ago this month, the Conference issued guidelines for citing Internet materials in judicial opinions. A brief statement regarding the new policy was posted to the Web, as you do.

Not long ago Raizel Liebler and June Liebert, two librarians at the John Marshall Law School in Chicago, needed to refer to the Conference’s announcement in their paper “Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation: The Life Span of a United States Supreme Court Citation Containing an Internet Link (1996-2010),” which appeared a couple of weeks ago in the Yale Journal of Law and Technology. But the link for it they had filed away while doing their research was now dead. In the meantime, the document had migrated to another URL, so no damage done. In a footnote, the authors said, “The irony of being unable to access a website we wanted to cite in an article about the ephemeral nature of websites, including discussion of reasons to avoid citing websites, was not lost on us.”

Perhaps it counts as ironic in the colloquial American sense (i.e., “odd but not remotely ironic”) but otherwise it’s just par for the course. The earliest recorded use of the phrase “link rot” – referring to the breaking of a link either through the removal of a web page or its transfer to a new address without a redirect from the original location -- is from 1996. Like another colorful expression, "spam," it began as slang among the digital cognoscenti for a while before entering wider usage as the problem itself became a fact of life. By 1998, papers in library science and Internet research journals were taking up the instability of online information sources. A number of studies over the past 15 years have confirmed one’s gut feeling that up to a third of links, and possibly more, are broken.

What would really count as ironic would be doing research on the ephemeral nature of websites and finding that every single link you consulted was in good working order. After which lightning would probably strike you twice.

It's a nuisance, certainly, but link rot also looms as a serious problem for the disciplinary production of knowledge, which relies, in part, on the existence of stable and documentable sources of information. Citation allows others to examine those sources -- whether to verify them or assess how accurately an author has used them, or as a basis for further research.

Broken links in the bibliography are, in effect, broken links in an argument. That is particularly true given the role of law blogs, a.k.a. “blawgs,” as a source of real-time legal analysis and commentary -- something the traditional, rather slow-moving law review can’t do. Around the time the Commission put forward its suggested practices for citing online materials, John Doyle published an article with the wonderfully sonorous title “The Law Reviews: Do Their Paths of Glory Lead but to the Grave?” Doyle, an associate law librarian at the Washington & Lee University School of Law, concluded that the survival of the review format (let alone the chance of having any effect beyond building ambitious students’ résumés) depended on making articles available online with almost blawgish rapidity.

So as judicial opinions and scholarly legal debates depend more and more on documents or professional exchanges originally housed on a server somewhere, their evidence and context become vulnerable in ways Blackstone could never imagine. (The link to a history-making law review-article debated in the 2020 presidential campaign may work just fine -- but what about the material cited by the author?)

Broken links in the bibliography are, in effect, broken links in an argument.

In their recent paper from the Yale Journal of Law and Technology, Liebler and Liebert focus on link rot in a specific and definitive body of texts: the opinions handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States from the 1995-96 through the 2009-10 terms. “Our initial hypothesis,” they write, “was that the Supreme Court would use very few Internet citations due to the ephemeral and unreliable nature of those sources.”

What they actually found was that the Justices used 430 online citations over the Court’s 15 sessions -- with links appearing in 144 cases, representing about 14 percent of the total. “Of the URLs used within the U.S. Supreme Court opinions during our study period,” the authors report, “we found that 29 percent of them were invalid.”

This was almost double the rate of link rot found in a 2006 study of Supreme Court opinions, but in keeping with the level of URL breakage that investigators have noted in other legal texts. For example, the latest report from the Chesapeake Digital Preservation Group – a collaborative project of the Georgetown and Harvard law libraries and the state law libraries of Virginia and Maryland -- shows that almost 37 percent of links in a random selection of documents from the past six years had gone dead. The rate was higher for a sample from 2007-8; by now, 44 percent were broken.

In 2009, the Judicial Conference suggested that clerks download the Internet sources cited in an opinion and include them as attachments made available, along with the opinions themselves, through a legal files system such as PACER. Liebler and Liebert say that the level of compliance by courts is unknown – and the very effort raises copyright issues.

The Supreme Court prints out the Internet resources cited in its decisions, “which means,” the authors note, “that access to the archive is limited.” They suggest that the Court make its holding available by partnering with the Internet Archive – and the Chesapeake Group hopes that its own collection of documents “will lay the foundation for what could become a nationwide program to preserve materials supporting legal research, practice, and scholarship in the U.S.”

It’s a start. But what about something grander -- something audaciously bold but almost incredibly obvious? Why not draw upon the combined legal brainpower of the judiciary while also taking head-on the implications of what Edward Snowden has revealed? For it sounds like the phantom content of dead links lives on in the matrix of the National Security Administration’s record-keeping. As it is, most of that data is just going to waste -- so drill, baby, drill.


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