Higher education news sources reported that Pearson, the textbook publishing giant, announced yesterday that it will purchase eCollege. Perhaps some of your institutions use or have made use of eCollege in the past. As a provider of course management systems it was a much more turnkey approach than Blackboard, WebCT and others. Faculty provided content to eCollege, and then eCollege did most of the work to produce the online courses – at a fairly hefty price. Pearson’s move, say analysts, signals that it intends to compete with Blackboard for a role as a major competitor in the CMS marketplace, and there is no lack of institutions that might be very interested in a good option for replacing Blackboard.
This move may mean nothing new of significance for academic libraries, other than the importance of continuing efforts to integrate the library into the campus courseware system. However, given that courseware systems offer faculty the opportunity to create an information silo in which students are channeled to selected information resources, there is always the possibility that the library can be shut out of the learning environment. My concern, given Pearson’s past practice of bundling non-library information resources with their textbooks, is that the likelihood of these information silos developing could greatly increase with Pearson at the helm of a CMS. As evidence consider Research Navigator. Some of you may recall this venture with EBSCO and the New York Times that gave students a password to this library database alternative along with the purchase of a Pearson textbook. I only learned about it because a faculty member asked me if I knew what it was, and if it was an option for using our library’s own e-resources (Hell no!).
I’m not suggesting that Pearson intends to compete with our academic libraries along with Blackboard. I don’t believe that Pearson even gives much thought to the impact of their bundling lower quality research products with their textbooks – and quite possibly with any future CMS product they deliver. What I do think is that academic librarians will want to be alert to where Pearson heads with this purchase of eCollege. If your institution takes a closer look at whatever CMS product this publisher brings to the marketplace, it would be advisable to get a librarian on the committee that evaluates the CMS to determine in what ways, if any, Pearson is bundling add-ons like Research Navigator into the product. These databases simply duplicate what the academic library offers, and often just add unnecessarily to the product’s price. Worse yet, unknowing faculty may give their students access to these resources thinking it’s the equivalent of what the library offers – and that would be a disservice to both our faculty and our students.