Thursday, September 27, 2012

OCAD / Pearson Art Textbook Update

This is an update on the story about the $180 set text for an Ontario College of Art and Design's new art history course - which had absolutely no pictures of the artwork it was referencing.  Instead there were just a lot of empty image frames. (See Art History - a set text book with no pictures!)

This empty frame normally contains a rather good still life by Cezanne
which hangs in the Musee d'Orsay
Photograph © Katherine Tyrrell (2009)
I've received a comment from OCAD which in turn has highlighted their official response and I'm reproducing both of them below.  Along with some references to Pearson Publishing's approach to creating learning materials - and my comments on the whole affair.

Let me say at the outset that I think there are some lessons for everybody - art schools, publishers, parents and students.

It's very apparent to me that the fact that a concerned parent went public and his network took the story viral around the world means there has been a fast response.  It's to their credit that the College and the Publisher have responded quickly to the concerns being expressed.  The College has listened to the concerns of the students and the publisher would now like to get the book out of circulation asap.  Plus there are some proposals as to how the matter might be resolved for this year.

However I'm still left with the impression that people are still looking at the wrong problem - of which more in my analysis and comments at the end.

First the update on the situation - and then my analysis.

The OCAD Media Perspective

This is a comment I received on the previous post.  Sarah misunderstands my comprehension of the copyright situation.
Hi Katherine,

If you've been continuing to follow this story you'll note that the solution that was arrived at prior to the start of the course was indeed an effort on the part of OCAD University to save students a significant amount of money.

OCAD University has accepted full responsibility for a flawed learning system, and is working with the students and publisher to make things right.

The publisher has accepted full responsibility for producing a flawed product (you can read an article that includes quotes from yesterday's forum, attended by the publisher, on the Toronto Star website, for example). This article also outlines the steps the publisher is taking to address the problem for students affected this term.

The copyright aspect is far more nuanced than your article relays. There is a good discussion of these nuances on Brent Ashley's blog, the father of the OCAD University student that originally broke this story on his blog.

Finally, while we appreciated students' suggestions to make the learning system entirely digital (related to your comment about saving trees), the reality is that about half of students surveyed have difficulty reading large amounts of text on a screen. While OCAD University is very committed to sustainability (as evidenced by itspolicies, task force, and sustainability office and the curricular focus, including the ability for students to minor in Sustainable Design) there is still a strong demand for printed materials, both for ease of use and for accessibility reasons.

We thank you for your interest in this story, and your engagement on these important issues.
Sarah Mulholland
Media & Communications Officer
OCAD University
Toronto, ON

Wednesday, September 26, 2012
The Response from the Dean

This is the content of the letter referenced in the above comment.  I'm wondering why the above missive didn't reference the outcome of the second meeting with Pearson referenced below.
Friday, September 21, 2012

Update from Dean K. Shailer re LBST 1B04 Custom Text: Proposed Solutions

Thank you to all the students who came to the Open Discussion Session yesterday to express their deep concerns about the flawed course package (reader, two e-books) we provided for this course. I understand they were speaking on behalf of many other students who could not be there – as evidenced by the number of signatures on the online petition (which I have now read in total and am taking quite seriously).

Here's a summary of the chief concerns (and suggestions) I heard from students:
  • All the blank blocks where images were meant to be was a waste of paper and poor design;
  • Being expected to move between a print text and online images contained in an e-book was not a viable learning system (regardless of age or tech-savviness; also many students need a workable system to use when in transit)
  • Although a number of students asked explicitly for a “more economical” e-book version of the 
  • reader, others asked simply for images and text to be in the same mode (digital or print-based) 
  • and in the same place;
  • They felt like guinea pigs or beta testers for a new system that didn’t work and wanted compensation;
  • They worried about resale value;
  • Some students wanted to revert to the former art history courses.
  • Were students with disabilities being accommodated with a special-format version of the custom text? This is being addressed - yes. 
  • A number of work-around solutions were thrown out (e.g., buy Stokstad and Drucker online at 
  • used prices and sell back at end of term).
We also spent some time talking about copyright and the limitations we face with visual culture books – especially a small print run like this one. We need more discussion on this.

To be clear: My first objective is to have the material (text and images) of this phenomenal new course in students' hands in a format they feel they can use, so they can get on with the course now.

Meeting with Pearson Learning Solutions

I met later in the afternoon with reps from Pearson – including the President of the Higher Education Division of Pearson Canada, Steve O’Hearn – and from the U of T/OCADU Bookstore, as well as a number of other OCAD U faculty and staff. We laid out the concerns and asked for solutions. Pearson was highly responsive and proposed offering:
  • Guaranteed end-of-term buy-back of the custom text (dollar amount to be announced next week); they want to take it out of circulation.
  • Provision (free) of print copies of the Stokstad text (which contains the vast majority of missing images) to all students who have purchased the reader, to use as a print-based cross-reference; these would be the relevant volumes of the portable version of Stokstad (much easier to carry) – details on how this will roll out next week.
For next semester (LBST 1B05), we will have two possible scenarios that we’d like to poll students on. In any case there will be NO EMPTY BLOCKS OF WHITE SPACE. And for future offerings (next year and beyond): we will wait until March and further feedback from all of you before making any decisions.

like to present all this to interested students as soon as possible and are scheduling a second meeting for next Tuesday afternoon. If you cannot attend, please get in touch and let me know your thoughts.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Room 190
100 McCaul

With best wishes,
Kathy Shailer

Dean, Faculty of Liberal Arts &
The Commentary from Local Press

This is the article published on Tuesday in The Toronto StarPublisher offers free textbooks, buyback option for artless-art history textbook.

So now students will have an $180 textbook with no pictures plus, as of this Friday, a five-volume set of Stokstad art history textbooks for no extra charge plus $50 reimbursement when they return the volume without images to Pearson at the end of the academic course.

Pearson Publishing

I don't think anybody has yet referenced "Custom Solutions facilitate student success" on the higher education part of the Pearson Publishing's website

In order to help progress some understanding of the situation in Ontario let's consider what it says.  In essence it:
  • offers to create customised learning materials
  • indicates that customised learning materials lead to better levels of student engagement (they certainly succeeded on that one!)
  • creates custom textbooks which are affordable (wrong - very wrong - when it comes to art!)
So it appears what we have here is:
  • a publisher who is trying hard to work out how it can create new products out of its existing asset base - in much the same way as many other publishers - in order to create new profit streams within the context of the collapse of the traditional business model for publishing (I've written about this previously in Art Books #2 - the economics of publishing (Jan. 2009) with respect to art instruction books and within the context of the changing nature of the publishing industry, the rise of ebooks and the potential to completely eliminate the publisher).  In this instance they seem to have an idea which fails to deliver on the promises because of the particular expenses associated with images and copyright.  One would have thought they'd have spelt this out at the commissioning stage.
  • an enthusiastic but naive client (OCAD) who wanted to use this new process for creating new and customised learning materials for a new course.  However they apparently proceeded without obtaining:
    • any costing as to what price the student would have to pay for the customised materials
    • or an estimate of what price the licence might be for copyright photos of images which are mainly in the public domain. 
    • an estimate of the print run assumed by the publisher
Neither did a good job.  Neither had a robust framework of checks and balances in place which would indicate whether or not the project was a "goer".  How do I know this?  Well apart from many years experience of unpicking "what went wrong" - they either didn't have the checks in place or they didn't use them.  This project was always a non starter - because of the fees required for licensing photographs of the artwork and the fact that the materials were for one course with a small number of students.  

In other words the problem isn't the copyright issue.  The problem is that nobody estimated the impact of the copyright issue.

My guess is that somebody at Pearson's forgot that if you create a new publication based on existing text and images you have to get a new ISBN number and pay a licence fee all over again for the images.  Or maybe this was the first time they'd created customised learning materials for an art course - and they learned the lesson about what's involved the hard way?

Looking at the wrong problem

I still maintain that creating a paper product as a customised set text for a course with a small number of students is the wrong way of addressing the learning needs AND the affordability issue.  BOTH imperatives have to be met.

In the same way, nobody will ever now persuade me that the quality of reproduction of images in a textbook in any way rivals the quality of images which one can now access online for free - and zoom in and out of.  If I want students to have the best experience of artwork I'd always recommend they look at it online (and I've spent a lot of years tracking down and looking at artwork online)

It is perfectly possible to create an ebook which uses a thumbnail of an image and embeds hyperlinks to much larger versions of the image which can then be accessible for free to those who are engaged in an educational process.  

Such ebooks can be made available online via iPads, Kindles and ordinary computers.  

The notion that people don't like to read a lot online is wholly negated by a publishing industry which is being turned upside down by the movement of purchasers from reading a lot of text on paper to reading a lot of text online.  (eBooks now outsell print sales on Amazon in the UK plus distributors are beginning to heavily discount the cost of ebooks as they should). 

I do wonder if students had to choose between a very affordable ebook with access to very good quality images and a very expensive printed textbook with exactly the same content whether they'd still have the same problems with reading off a screen and which one they'd actually choose.

It also strikes me that maybe the educational community has also forgotten that one of the "fair use" exemptions for copyright is education.  

If I had any involvement with the Art Education community in Canada - as a tutor, a parent or a student - I'd be wanting to get the Canadian Government to take a serious look at the Educational Sector Licences which are available from the Copyright Agency in Australia.  When covered by such a licence paid for by an annual fee, a teacher can, within reasonable limits,  reproduce and publish copyright text and images, in print and digital formats, for free.  That should mean that copyright costs nothing - so long as it is licensed.

There again - if I was a lecturer in art, I'd be using my vacation to write the next best selling ebook about art history and then release it as an "indie" for use within the education sector! ;)

PS  If anybody wants an affordable ($40) book with just pictures of global art on which to base an academic course I can highly recommend Art by Andrew Graham-Dixon.  Here's my Book Review: Art - the definitive visual guide

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the insight, Katherine. I've continued the conversation a bit on my blog.


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