End of the e-textbook? Publishers offer Blackboard content integration

Publisher McGraw-Hill is partnering with Blackboard to provide more than just a course e-book. The publisher now offers course textbooks, assignments, and assessments that can be fully integrated into an existing LMS.

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I spotted this article, McGraw-Hill and Blackboard: Partnering to Create the Learning Experience of the Future (via iLibrarian), and immediately wondered what the implications might be here for online learning and academic libraries.

While this post reads more like a corporate press release extolling the virtues of such a partnership, an immediate concern that comes to mind is whether this might turn into a corporate monopoly. That is, could an instructor individually partner with McGraw-Hill to integrate content for one course, but not another? Or would this have to be settled at the institution level, with a publisher requiring that it have exclusive rights to provide content for all of the school’s classes?

McGraw-Hill is proud to offer “pre-packaged” courses:

“With vetted and peer-reviewed content available, faculty [members] don’t need to spend as much time building core content; instead they can focus on how to add to their course based on an incident that happened in the class or a current event. Instructors can easily adapt to student needs,” says Fontenot.

This immediacy also increases an online course’s scalability. “Using pre-packaged content helps an instructor go from teaching 50 to 300 students without the time commitment of creating another course shell,” she says.

In the growing push towards growing online academic offerings, “pre-packaged” content like this will have a certain appeal. But just as Amazon only licenses e-books and doesn’t sell them, occasionally a book will be deleted from users’ Kindle should Amazon deem it necessary. No explanation required. If a single provider provides all course content, and retains licensing rights, does this put students at risk should content be pulled mid-semester? What rights would an institution retain if it doesn’t own its courses’ content?

This isn’t to say that this type of content integration is a wholly bad idea. I think that incorporating textbook content into an online course will improve the user experience. Academic libraries, though, already have a lot of funds invested in academic databases and e-content. I wonder if content could be incorporated from sources that an institution is already paying for, rather than paying more for potentially duplicate content.

What are the implications here for online learning? And how can libraries better serve students in online classes?

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