Student with textbooks
ICON Direct saves students over $1 million in textbook costs. Photo by Justin Torner.

Savings continue to add up as more University of Iowa courses take advantage of ICON Direct, a digital storefront for buying textbooks and course materials at a much lower cost than printed  equivalents.

The estimated total savings to students will top $1 million this spring. Use has grown steadily since the first pilot in fall 2017. In fall 2018, more than 8,800 students were using ICON Direct, and this spring the number grew to 9,200. 

Jim Chaffee, assistant dean for information technology and facilities in the Tippie College of Business, uses ICON Direct in his Business Computing Essentials course. 

“It’s important to do what we can to keep the costs down for the students in this course as it impacts a large number—anywhere from 500 to 900 students, depending on the semester,” says Chaffee. “With ICON Direct, we’ve been able to save the students significant dollars without losing any of the content necessary to provide a quality class.” 

In addition to saving students money, ICON Direct is opening up new possibilities in teaching and learning. Students can search, annotate, and mark digital course materials, or pose questions to their instructors within the text. Instructors can see which passages students highlight or find challenging. 

Herbert Meisner, a fourth-year student from Cincinnati, Ohio, used ICON Direct in his research methods class. Meisner is studying criminology, law and justice, and ethics and public policy. 

"I absolutely loved it,” Meisner says. “It was at least half the price of the regular textbook and was so much easier to find what I was looking for since it was electronic." 

When instructors decide to provide an online textbook through ICON Direct, MyUI notifies students with a description of the book and its cost. Students can access the book as early as a week before the semester, and the cost automatically appears on their U-Bill.  

Digital materials used in ICON Direct are available through the UI’s membership in Unizin, a nonprofit consortium of universities that counts 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.  

The Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology calculates savings estimates using a formula shared by peer institutions: the difference between list price and the Unizin-negotiated price—then cut in half to account for the fact that many students would not have paid the full list price because they bought a used book, rented or shared the book, or decided not to purchase it at all. Savings for online homework solutions are calculated at 100 percent since they are required and can't be shared or reused. 

“Even with conservative estimates, the financial benefit to students remains significant,” says Annette Beck, director of enterprise instructional technology in the Office of Teaching, Learning & Technology. “We are very excited to be able to provide the content students need to succeed in their courses in a more affordable way, with additional features that can enhance learning.” 

UI Student Government passed a resolution in support of ICON Direct in September, citing its potential to enhance student success and help make higher education more affordable. 

“I support  ICON Direct because it’s 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 student from Davenport, Iowa, and a co-sponsor of the UISG resolution. 

Other affordable-content initiatives are underway on campus, too. The Iowa Hawk Shop University Book Store allows students to rent textbooks and return them at the end of the semester, and UI Libraries is partnering with UI Student Government to offer the Textbook Affordability Pilot (TAP) program, in which purchased or donated textbooks are available for students to use at the library. 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.

Year in Review 2018
This story is part of a Year in Review highlighting some of OneIT's accomplishments from 2018.Go to Year in Review