Paper or electronic? Universities consider e-textbooks
More and more students have begun to find an abundance of ways around spending money on textbooks. Some opt to go without and not buy the book, hoping they can pass despite their lack of reference material. Others share textbooks with classmates, or try to find deals at online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay. Such alternative methods of buying textbooks put a damper on the profits of campus bookstores and textbook publishers.
Many colleges are trying to implement new plans where students pay a course materials fee which would be used towards buying e-books, or online versions of textbooks, which purport to save students money.
A study conducted by the National Association of College Stores, “Defining the College Store of 2015,” found that electronic textbooks are cheaper than printed textbooks, and are causing many universities to seriously consider making the switch.
The use of electronic textbooks is being experimented with at Virginia State University, according to a Nov. 14 piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Mirta Martin, the dean of Virginia State’s business school, has supported this option for many years. She said she is passionate about saving students money on their books after seeing so many students performing inadequately because they could not afford to buy the necessary text.
In response, Martin helped to work Flat World Knowledge, a site dedicated to providing open source resources and free textbook use online, into Virginia State’s offerings, allowing students free access to resources for their courses online. To download the resources, Flat World Knowledge and Virginia State set a fee of $20 for downloads. This allows Virginia State students, and possibly other university students in the future, access not just to the book, but other resources such as audio or study guides.
Publishing companies have become well aware of the intensity of the digital conversion. Realizing there may be nothing they can do about the switch, they are attempting to make some profit off of a change which could potentially make obsolescent traditional textbooks. According to the Chronicle, major publishing company McGraw-Hill Companies has executed a program called Create, which is an example of the “build-a-book” option, which publishing community insiders believe will skyrocket once e-textbooks become more popular.
Create allows teachers to customize their own textbook to their students and their respective courses. It permits teachers to cut out unwanted chapters, add extra material from other books, or create study guides. Professors can access a website with 4,000 McGraw-Hill books and an abundance of articles, case studies, or uploaded documents from other professors. Once they have created their desired book, the site will give them a projected price. They can then decide whether they want to make it a printed book or an e-book. In an example created by the Chronicle of a health care book, researchers found that costs were reduced to $6 as an e-book and $16.96 in print.
Mary Skafidas, McGraw-Hill’s senior manager of corporate communications, reached via email, said electronic textbooks represent a rapidly growing percentage of their overall revenue in the higher education market.
“As more students embrace the interactivity, media-rich content, search capability and note-taking functionality available with these environmentally friendly e-books, we see them and other digital learning tools becoming more widespread.”
Skafidas said she feels her company and other publishers will continue to offer greater amounts of e-books in the near future.
“About 95 percent of our textbooks are offered as e-books across all academic disciplines. Our objective is to ensure that our content is available in whatever manner instructors and students prefer. The digital transformation of education goes well beyond e-books and delivering content digitally. We are utilizing adaptive learning platforms that can deliver individualized learning to students, increasing academic achievement and proficiency.”
Clement Seldin, an education professor at the University of Massachusetts, expressed his support for saving students money on books.
“If we were at a high-end school where everyone was driving Mercedes’, I wouldn’t feel bad, but we’re at a state institution. Students in the past have come up to me saying they won’t be back next semester because tuition or fees went up.”
To help undergraduate students save money, Professor Seldin has switched from textbooks to his own lecture notes, with supplemental readings posted on SPARK.
“It’s useless making kids buy three textbooks where they’ll only read two chapters. If I can get the same information for free I’ll do that instead.”
While the future is unclear regarding what recipe of books, electronic, in-print or both, will work best, big changes can be expected on the textbook horizon soon.
Amy Brennan can be reached at email@example.com