Well played, McGraw Hill

In recent blogs and a brief article in Academe, Open Textbook Publishing, I argued that faculty are wise to embrace their power as authors in the digital age, that they no longer need to rely on publishers:

Thanks to inexpensive or free publishing tools and the ubiquitous nature of the web, the faculty can assume the traditional responsibilities of publishers. Faculty members can build massive, global communities around their pedagogical works by licensing them under an open-culture copyright license and by employing peer-review processes to vet publications.

Well, this week I must acknowledge a corollary to this observation: publishers no longer need academic institutions!

McGraw Hill has partnered with Straighterline.Com to offer Composition 1, Composition 2, and other general education courses that appear to be accredited and accepted by some colleges and universities.  Students can take composition for $69 without office hours and discussion forum.  If you want those frills the course is $119.  The catch is that you also need to pay $100/month to Straighterline.Com while taking courses and purchasing a McGraw Hill textbook.

I suppose I’m revealing my naiveté here.   I mean, I knew Pearson Education and the other publishers are funding the development of common core curriculum development, textbooks, assessment, and teacher training.  But it never occurred to me that the publishers could just form their own high schools, and colleges, and universities.

4 thoughts on “Well played, McGraw Hill

  1. Isn’t that what the College Board has been doing for years with AP? They are a private profit-making corporation without accreditation or outside oversight selling college credits at $91/three (or whatever they are charging these days). A reminder: anyone may take any AP exam. No course is necessary.
    The real shame is that colleges accept these credits. If colleges accept McGraw Hill’s credits, they are contributing to the dilution of college education.

    • Agreed. The ability to knock out 250 words in a timed-writing situation is quite different than the ability to juggle multiple sources and claims, teasing out the contradictions, summarizing/paraphrasing accurately, and developing a longer piece over time, something way, way beyond 250 to 500 words, something substantial, something academic–something we value. And I think there’s substance to the argument cognitive psychologists have made about the ability to move beyond dualistically being tied to age, something high schoolers cannot imagine despite the benefits of dual enrollment.

      And I realize there have been commercial companies in the market and that they’ve made fortunes collecting major money from students who couldn’t get into real schools.

      What I was trying to get at in this post was the ways that digital spaces are remediating our roles–as writers, publishers, teachers/faculty. I’ve thought of publishers as partners, enablers. I think they bring value to the table even if http://writingcommons.org can reach a million readers in a year for about $500. But now thieve taken on our roles as providers of content/teaching spaces.

      I suppose the cynical view is this is just a re-shuffling of labor relations.

      • Once one realizes that in some cases (e.g. foreign languages), publishers market essentially the same textbooks to both high schools and colleges/universities — albeit often with different titles and cover art or different Website portals — then one also understands that publishers have always actually been simply enabled by and for individual or group authors as content providers to markets. Thus, whether the publisher markets to individual faculty through the bookstores of higher education institutions or directly to students/consumers via their own Website courses, etc., the profit motive is all.

        Even university publishing houses have been institutions corporately “apart” from the universities whose names they bear. Increasingly, online courses and degree programs are being subcontracted out by colleges and universities as well. Granted, the digital age has facilitated the exploitation of these course markets directly by publishers, but the essential impulses of commercial publishing and academic publishing were never really those of “partnership” with faculty and higher education institutions in the first place. Authors are always essentially exploited as well as enabled by publishers; publishers in the end have their own self-interest as their driving force.

        In the case of academic courses, faculty whose courses are enslaved by or substituted for by publishers have themselves at least partly to blame: in the digital age, each faculty member could, as the blogger points out, easily self-publish on the Internet — or even found his/her own educational institution. One need no longer have the personal fortune of a Leland Stanford to found a university. Further, this is why the true higher education battleground was and is accreditation — to enable the procurement of Federal student loan dollars.

        Thus, the irony is that commercial publishers have succeeded in maintaining and now expanding their role in the higher education market to the extent that they have while faculty roles are receding from the foreground. Again, publishers clearly have faculty hesitation with technology (and, dare one say, laziness?) to thank for their increasing share of growing corporate/corporatist hegemony over higher education during the past three decades of our digital age.

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