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I am attending a community college in the US, and one of my professors has made it a requirement to purchase a login from McGraw-Hill Connect, even though our school is already set up with a decent online-learning platform. (This is a traditional class, by the way - not an online class.)

So far, the only material that has been placed on this McGraw-Hill platform (which I paid $120 for) is a weekly multiple choice homework assignment which could easily be handed out on a piece of paper or distributed via the previously-mentioned platform (which is already available to students taking the class and requires no additional charge).

What would be the incentive for a professor to require students to purchase this "extra feature" which, for my class, provides little-to-no real use and reaps in thousands of extra dollars for McGraw Hill? Is it possible that my professor is required to do this to fulfill some sort of contract?

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    Not an answer, but did you mention to your prof that there are free/cheaper alternatives which can handle multiple choice quizzes? It may simply be that the prof knows no other way to move towards automation and is being pushed into moving at least part of his/her class online (e.g., creating a 'blended' class). – earthling Feb 23 '15 at 7:40
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    Not saying that the situation is optimal, but you shouldn't jump to the conclusion that something immoral is happening. Maybe the lecturer in fact (rightly or not) sees an advantage in using this system? Maybe he is not aware of the alternative, or does not know how to use it? – xLeitix Feb 23 '15 at 9:04
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    It's possible that the multiple choice questions that the professor is assigning are content that is only available when students have paid for the online course materials. – Brian Borchers Feb 23 '15 at 14:40
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    The most likely reason is not a contract but simple laziness. The publisher wants to kill off the used book market, so they try to force students to buy something they can't get by buying a used book. The professor is lazy, and likes the fact that the online quizzes are keyed to the chapters of the book and require zero effort from him/her to create or grade. – user1482 Feb 23 '15 at 21:05
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Is it possible? I suppose so, but that's not the way things normally work. Usually the professor, or a committee of professors, decides what textbook and/or homework system to use. There is not usually a contract, and they can change to a different book or system at any time.

I can think of several more likely reasons for using the system:

  • Simplicity. A generic online learning system like Blackboard has little pre-made content, while a system from a publisher will come with questions already written. Writing even one quiz per week "from scratch" in Blackboard is highly time consuming. Giving quizzes on paper is also more time consuming, and takes class time.

  • Textbook integration. The online systems from publishers are often tightly integrated with an online textbook. Students often complain about systems like Blackboard, saying they don't see the link between the questions there and the textbook.

  • A desire to try out online systems. From the question, it sounds like the professor could get more "value" from the system. Perhaps she's just trying it out, before really committing to it. Or perhaps she is concerned about complaints if she assigns more frequent assignments. Student feedback is important in this case.

  • If a committee decided that the online system is required, perhaps the professor could be "playing along" by assigning a minimal amount of work on it, just enough to avoid criticism from colleagues.

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    From the student's point of view, the most useful way in which to influence future decisions by the professor and the department is to comment on this in the end of semester course evaluations. If there are enough complaints from students about the cost of this material and the faculty don't see sufficient value in the material, then they'll be likely to stop using it. – Brian Borchers Feb 23 '15 at 14:42

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