Sore shoulders, heavy bookbags and high expenses … these common representations of college life may soon become a thing of the past.
Judith Sessions, dean of university libraries, addressed the board of trustees’ academic/student affairs committee Wednesday morning about the increasing drive toward digital textbooks.
“There’s legislation now in Ohio to mandate that Ohio Board of Regents (OBR) work with major textbook publishers within two years to have an electronic copy of any textbook Ohio assigns in any public university,” Sessions said.
Sessions said the high cost of textbooks is the driving force behind this. Sessions said textbook prices inflate 6 to 10 percent a year. She also said a 2006 Association of American Publishers study found that on average a college student spends $650-1,000 a year on textbooks.
“I don’t think digital textbooks are really the answer to saving money … they’re the attraction but that’s because of the rather simplistic view of looking at the issue,” Sessions said.
First-year Rebecca Taustine, a pre-communication major, said she likes the idea of having digital textbooks because she has a bad back. She joked that her father always wanted her to get a rolling bookbag.
“It would be nice to take my laptop mostly to class,” Taustine said. “But computers aren’t fool proof and still crash. If that happened the day before a test I’d be in trouble.”
Sessions said there are many options available for digital textbooks, including giving instructors the ability to customize and edit the textbook, embed graphs, animations and online tutorials and the ability to highlight, write notes and search for key words.
Sessions said currently only 2 percent of the textbook market has digital copies available with it, so the issue is still very small but will grow in the future.
William Hardesty, professor of English at Miami University, said it was not likely all texts will be available and the question comes in: can the publisher be forced to make it available in electronic copy?
Companies such as CourseSmart and Macmillan are being considered. There are pros and cons of both. Sessions said Macmillan gives teachers the ability to reorganize or remove chapters.
“What is very controversial is you can rewrite individual sentences that you as an instructor don’t agree with,” Sessions said.
Hardesty said especially with the recent talk on intellectual property he doubts a publisher would allow that. Taustine said as long as permission was granted by the author then it would be fine to edit the content.
“That’s an author’s work but obviously teachers add their own thought into concepts,” Taustine said.
Sessions said benefits include lower cost, not carrying books and having multiple modes of presentation.
Hardesty agreed with these positives but said a downfall is the cost difference slowly goes away as a student starts to print portions of the book.
Challenges from digital textbooks include not being able to resell the book, high demands on computer network infrastructure and the need for faculty support.
“It would only be a positive thing because even if you can’t resell, it’s still cheaper,” Taustine said.
Sessions said no matter the outcome, the option of the print version will be preserved.
“Students aware of both options will over time choose the digital textbook more and more,” Sessions said. “We’re still dealing with new possibilities, they’re exciting.”
Provost Jeffrey Herbst said with this digital textbook consideration people are now beginning to explore what it means to teach digitally.
“Lots of students are more comfortable, or at least the same amount, with electronic media as with print,” Hardesty said. “Not lugging around heavy textbooks and being able to access anywhere makes the notion of electronic textbooks attractive.”
Hardesty said it’s still unknown if the concept will be a bust or not.
“It’s an interesting idea the regents have but I don’t know if it’s ready to be imposed on everyone,” Hardesty said. “The technology isn’t developed enough yet.”