Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Less is More

Jessica and I created a wee advert for the College of Education at the University of South Alabama. We asked many students what they would like to see and improve about their educational experience. Some wished that they had more than the two classes offered online at the college. Lots of people are annoyed at the lack of online choice for undergraduates (currently two choices.) Most wished to eliminate the cost of textbooks and supplies, that they felt were not needed. Everyone agreed that being familiar with smart boards would be a huge advantage entering the job market as a new teacher. If that's what the student demands, then we wondered how hard it would be to make it happen.

So, we began researching and found that the easiest way to do this would be to have a very inexpensive laptop for every student that did not already have one. When students have a laptop they would be able to purchase smart board (or supplied the software) and use the application whenever they wanted. The question was "how could we afford to do this?"

The answer seemed delightfully simple and beneficial to all. Sites like Zinio work with publishers and faculty to convert and manage textbooks into digital print.

Meaning that there is no limit to how little or how many copies the publisher needs to make. Digital print also saves paper, machines, ink, freight, and bookstore fees. (The publicity the University would receive from going green in this way would bring major attention to our College of Education) This allows publishers to make the same profit with textbooks being less then half the price of hardback copies.
Further more, publishers suggest that faculty can opt to purchase a chapter at a time to suit the class, and tailor the entire semester readings, rather than the entire book. At first, I thought this was crazy, but then I remembered ITunes and how I frequently go on and purchase a song from an album, but rarely have I ever thought about an entire CD. The publishers obviously know what they are doing.

Amazingly, this would allow faculty to slowly transition over to having entire text written by faculty rather than the publishers; generating a ton of money for the university while making college expenses less of a burden on students. I would be willing to pay a little extra tuition if I did not need to buy textbooks. I'm not a betting man, but a small incentive for faculty would make this happen quicker than you would think possible.

As a student the average expense for four years of college textbooks is currently $5,800 and rising at 6% per year. The university bookstore only makes a 3.7% average net profit on textbooks. That is only $50 per year per student after expenses. Why not change the process? According to the government agency that controls financial assistance in education, this is the only viable long term solution to making universities and schools affordable. Check out the facts by clicking HERE.

Imagine if all you had to buy was a $200 laptop and a $150 smart board software program instead of $5,800 worth of books.

Students would be better prepared entering the classroom as a result of the laptops and years of using them.
No more back problems carrying and organizing files. No more clutter or lost work. No more textbook frustration. No more printing. No more carbon footprint. Classrooms would be clutter free and would be able to invest in the student and the school. Go to the library and everyone is on a computer!
So the College of Education promises cutting edge technology and innovated solutions to a global community; that is an image I would like to see for me and the University as a future graduate and will impact the entire gulf coast school district. Sometimes, less is more.
Ad For College of Education


  1. Jim,

    Laptops make lousy readers, I would shoot for ebook readers like the Kindle. I understand the lack of functionality compared to a laptop though. How awesome would it be to go to the university website and download the chapters you need for the course.

    Now for something completely different, have you considered sending your family a cheap netbook with built in webcam and using skype to introduce them to your daughter? It would be much cheaper than a couple plane tickets and the benefits could go on for years. Of course, nothing replaces being there, but it might be a way to ease toward that with your wife.

    I really enjoy and appreciate your passion and I realize that your experiences as an adult makes you see things differently than many of your classmates. I would love to continue our conversation if you like. You can email me or skype me anytime. My information is on my blog. You can even call me, check out the cool Google Voice widget I have!


  2. Hey Jim,

    This is a great recap of the things you covered in your class presentation. I will be sure to send Heather here so she doesn't feel like she missed out on too much.


  3. Shucks thanks guys.
    @Mr. Chamberlain, I actually got to use a kindle on a flight to Wisconsin a few weeks back. Very impressed with what it could do (especially for special education) but it is as you say limited (maybe the Mac one coming out this year will be better.)
    My family have the capability to skype back home and I go to my parents home most every Sunday and call my relatives. Thank you for the contact information and the invite I will be continuing with you over the years, be careful what you wish for...I tend to talk a bit.

    @Anthony it was just a wee thing to say give the future teacher the tools and experience along with the knowledge you already pass on. Then the impact on the gulf coast school system would be immense. Universal Architecture (Thanks Steve) is a concept that allows things to fit for everyone and usually applies to things like 32 inch doors, so wheelchairs fit through; it applies to almost anything, like giving each person a laptop so you do not have to adapt things to allow everyone to compete (they learn to adapt to their needs themselves.) The textbooks and smart board software are just a means to show people in this area that we need to start trainning teachers and this is a way to do it. Are they interested? If it saves them money then it is a start. I also am married to a biologist and like Mr. Chamberlain have four kids, one daughter and three on the way, and want to be conscience of my carbon footprint.
    As far as smart boards go, they are in every classroom and no one knows how to use them. The software allows cheap experience and who knows what might happen. I am thinking grants and using what is available when I suggest this. If we are being trained to be in the class and the class comes with a $5,000 smart board then we should be trained on it to make life easier for all in the class.

  4. It's all been said above. Amazing! Or have I said that before?

  5. I should add: I'm just going to step to the side and smile!

  6. Dr. Strange

    Please remeber that IO had no knowledge of computers and technology prior to this class. I'm just a dumb Jock (that's a guy from Scotland not the athlete) and figure that if I could adapt, if I could accomplish, if I could learn, then how is it possible for a PH. D. candidate or instructor to do the same.
    The cutting edge of technology 20 years ago was a projector, 10 years ago it was e-mail and power points, now every teacher and professor has that technology in the class. Why? The students demand it and it makes life better. Same reason that we NEED a laptop and the daily skills to become proficient users. It's not the future, it is the present.