ICON Direct saves UI students money on textbooks

ICON Direct is a new system that provides students with a way to save money on textbooks while still providing them with all of the materials they need for their course.


Katina Zentz

Photo Illustration

Kelsey Harrell, News Reporter

Rising textbook prices have plagued college students for decades. Now, for some students, there may be a solution.

ICON Direct is a new system in the University of Iowa’s online course-management system, ICON. The new system allows professors to choose digital textbooks for their courses as well as tailor their lessons as they please because everything is online. The digital textbook functions as a way for students and instructors to communicate with each other besides using email.

Annette Beck, the IT director at the UI Office of Teaching, Learning, and Technology, said that through ICON Direct, faculty can send messages to their students and students can ask questions through the textbook. The students can also annotate and bookmark sections of their digital textbooks.

The use of ICON Direct can save students money on textbooks through the university’s partnership with Unizin, a nonprofit that works to provide affordable alternatives to textbooks. For the fall semester alone, students have saved close to $500,000 on textbooks, Beck said.

Students can also download their textbooks on up to five devices and access their ICON Direct textbooks for as long as they are enrolled at the UI, Beck said. The digital textbooks are part of a student’s financial aid, so they will be charged for the book in the third week of the semester. This allows students to have access to their book at the beginning of the course.

“ICON Direct is about finding new and creative ways to help students save money on course materials but also about giving them materials at the right time,” Beck said. “If students have course materials the first day of class, they are more likely to be successful.”

On Tuesday, UI Student Government senators voted on a resolution to support ICON Direct.

Tristan Schmidt, the UISG director of academic affairs, said textbook affordability has been a concentration for UISG for the past couple of years, given the rising cost of higher education. He said the group sees ICON Direct as a way to alleviate the stress of buying textbooks.

“In a way, this program is more sustainable because textbooks are a lot of paper, and so having this online is an accessible format for people who want to be more sustainable,” Schmidt said.

“In a way, this program is more sustainable because textbooks are a lot of paper, and so having this online is an accessible format for people who want to be more sustainable.”

— Schmidt

UISG wants students to be aware of other affordable textbook options besides renting, buying used textbooks, or buying from sources other than the Hawkshop and Iowa Book, he said.

Even though textbooks through ICON Direct are cheaper for students, the HawkShop and Iowa Book aren’t marking up any of their textbook prices and the university is not receiving any royalties from the program. Schmidt said UISG and the UI are focused on ensuring students can save money on the textbooks they need for their courses.

From the standpoint of UI faculty, it can save time by eliminating manual work with the interaction of ICON and an online homework system running separate programs, said Jim Chaffee, the assistant dean for information, technology, and facilities in the Tippie College of Business.

“I feel comfortable using the program because I know we’re getting the best thing for the students,” he said.

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