The Norman Transcript

November 29, 2012

iTunes, the future of OU classrooms

By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — In lieu of skyrocketing textbook prices, University of Oklahoma Center for Teaching Excellence Executive Director Mark Morvant gave a presentation Tuesday that made a strong case for digital instruction as the solution to this problem.

According to numbers Morvant presented from the Government Accountability Office, the average cost for college textbooks per semester has seen a 186 percent increase since 1986. Moreover, the most significant increases have been within the past four years.

The 20 Million Minds foundation, a fund supporting “disruptive technology” and digital textbooks, estimated that students paid an average of $900 per semester in 2009.

It is estimated students currently pay an average of $1,300 per semester for textbooks.

“In 16 years as a chemistry professor, I had to update everything in my course every three years, whether I wanted to or not. The truth is, in 16 years of teaching organic chemistry, there have been three minor revisions. But every three years, we get new textbooks and every three years, the cost of those textbooks goes up,” Morvant said.

Though he called this estimation “rough,” since only 70 percent of enrolled students actually buy the course materials, Morvant estimated that the transition to digital course materials would carve 5 to 15 percent out of higher education costs for students.

“Rising textbook costs is not part of what our students should be spending their hard-earned money on, and we’re at a point where technology has enabled us (professors) to create our own basic course materials which, in many cases, are better than the textbook,” Morvant said.

Giving a demonstration of digital courses available through iTunes U, Morvant showed attending professors the versatility of the software, as well as its effective use of the multiple media college students interact with on a daily basis.

Where software like iTunes U is great for challenging the digitally adept modern college student, it is also highly versatile for each instructor’s unique expertise or preferences.

“As a professor, you can use this to build the curriculum you want to teach, not what a majority of your colleagues nationwide want to teach. You can also make changes when you want to, not required changes every three years. Finally, we’re at a research university which is shaping what’s going to be in tomorrow’s textbooks. Why not infuse that in our classrooms now through a more versatile system?” Morvant said.

Though challenges such as making digital coursework available to students without laptops or iPads are still being addressed, Morvant said the Center for Teaching Excellence plans to begin tutorials for professors wishing to build iTunes U courses, with training set to begin in the spring and a new crop of iTunes courses hopefully launched in fall 2013.

For more information on open-source textbooks or iTunes U training, visit

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