ICON Direct offers digital versions of textbooks and course materials
Wednesday, August 29, 2018
student carrying way too many books
With ICON Direct, students can buy digital textbooks instead of printed ones, saving them money. Photo by Justin Torner.

This fall, the University of Iowa launched ICON Direct, an online platform that gives students the option of buying digital textbooks and course materials at a much lower cost than their printed equivalents.

Faculty interested in ICON Direct and other course material digital alternatives should consider attending a presentation and discussion sponsored by the OTLT and UI Libraries from noon to 1:30 p.m. Sept. 5 in 2520D, University Capitol Center.

Find more information about ICON Direct.

Faculty who want to use ICON Direct should contact Annette Beck, IT director of enterprise instructional technology in the OTLT, at annette-beck@uiowa.edu before Nov. 5.

“Digital content, particularly eTexts, is becoming more popular across the country, and not just because of the cost savings,” says Annette Beck, director in the Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology (OTLT). “Students can search, annotate, and mark digital course materials, pose questions to their instructors within the text, and instructors can see which passages students highlight or struggle with. It opens up a lot of new possibilities.”

During the 2017–18 academic year, the OTLT successfully managed a pilot program for ICON Direct involving about 25 course sections and about 5,000 students. The UI estimates that students saved an average of $50 in each course that was part of the pilot.

The cost of textbooks varies significantly by course, and many students rent or share them, which makes estimating actual savings difficult. About 160 courses are using ICON Direct for the launch this fall, and about 10,200 students are enrolled in those courses. The UI estimates that students will save an average of $50 in each course that is using ICON Direct, depending on the course, meaning that a student taking two ICON Direct courses could save $100 this semester.

Participating in ICON Direct is voluntary for faculty and students. Students can check a course description on MyUI to see if that course uses ICON Direct, and when an instructor signs up for the online platform, students automatically receive a notification through MyUI. Students in an ICON Direct course still can choose to purchase a printed textbook.

“Not all courses can use ICON Direct because there just aren’t always digital textbooks or course materials available,” says Beck. “We’re working with publishers and other universities to expand the number and type of course materials available so more faculty members and their students can benefit from ICON Direct. We have received growing interest for this fall’s launch, which is very exciting, and we are working to inform all faculty members about this new option that is available to them.”

ICON Direct is one of several campus efforts to help save students money on course materials. The Iowa Hawk Shop University Book Store allows students to rent textbooks for certain courses, and UI Libraries is partnering with UI Student Government (UISG) to offer the Textbook Affordability Pilot (TAP) program, in which purchased or donated textbooks are available for students to use at the library and leave there. UI Libraries also connects faculty to—and encourages them to develop—free and openly licensed digital course materials known as open education resources (OER). These can be used instead of a textbook or as a supplement.

The digital course materials used in ICON Direct are available through the UI’s membership in Unizin, a nonprofit consortium of universities that counts the UI among its founding members. Unizin and its members work to provide high quality, affordable learning materials and promote low-cost alternatives to printed texts. Many UI peers also are Unizin members, such as the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, and the Ohio State University.

Beck says student response to ICON Direct has been positive. UISG is scheduled to vote on a resolution declaring support and approval for ICON Direct on Sept. 4.

“As state appropriations continue to decline and tuition continues to rise, we must look toward maintaining the affordability of higher education in more innovative ways,” says UISG Senator Guowei Qi, a second-year undergraduate from West Des Moines, Iowa, majoring in biochemistry, mathematics, and computer science. Qi is one of two co-sponsors of the UISG resolution.

“I support ICON Direct because it is an innovative, efficient, and sustainable initiative that has already made higher education more affordable for thousands of UI students,” says UISG Senator A.J. Smith, a second-year undergraduate from Davenport, Iowa, majoring in economics, psychology, and criminology, and the second co-sponsor of the UISG resolution. “With this resolution supporting ICON Direct, we seek to uphold UISG’s tradition of supporting innovative programs that improve the student experience and student success here at the University of Iowa.”

Learn more about campus efforts to reduce the costs of course content on the Office of the Provost website.