Increasingly, the days of anxiously waiting for a textbook order that was supposed to arrive a week ago, the days of lugging around 30 pounds worth of books all day long, and the days of frantically rushing back to your dorm room for a forgotten book, are ending. Because that number sequence is your new textbook.
Usually, e-textbooks are published by the same publishers that print traditional textbooks and are available for download on computers and iPads after purchasing an access code.
Because students are, in theory, only purchasing a piece of cardboard with a number printed on it, the cost of e-textbooks is often significantly cheaper than the cost of a traditionally bound textbook. One textbook comparison tool shows the price listing of a textbook as $268.33 for a new bound book versus $71.00 for an electronic copy of the same.
And some e-textbooks are 100 percent free. OpenStax College, a nonprofit initiative based at Rice University, is a website that allows students to access completely peer-reviewed textbooks in a range of different subject areas for free online.
With the variety of options available, professors are beginning to take notice.
Chemistry professor Dr. Tracey Olin put it bluntly: “Online textbooks save students money.”
Dr. Rodger Wolbert, math professor, said, “I know that students have budgets and that spending money on a textbook that you might only use for one semester might be an expense that could be lessened, even though you still have to buy the online homework access (for web assignments).”
“And the hardcover version of the book is quite heavy to carry around when you’re only using about 50 percent of the book,” said Wolbert. “My philosophy is that we’re in the 21st century where a lot of things are digital; why can’t we take advantage of using something that is electronic, but also is cheap enough for students to use?”
Professors believe the advantages of online textbooks expand much further than their affordability.
“When you’re looking at an online (website) version rather than a PDF copy of a textbook, you can constantly update those. So there’s always a new edition available whenever they do their updates,” said Wolbert. “Another thing is that there’s links to videos and other electronic (resources) that you wouldn’t have access to or have to type in when using a hardbound textbook.”
Wolbert continued: “I also like that I can easily pull up the textbook on the projector in class as something I can reference in my actual teaching. And when I’m teaching an online course I can just use my SMART Podium and write directly on the book.”
However, the affordability, ease of access and flexibility of online textbooks doesn’t mean that professors have seen an increased engagement of materials in students who already have preconceived notions about a subject.
“In my years of teaching it seems that students, not all, but a lot don’t seem to see math textbooks as a good resource for them to use,” Wolbert said.
“One of my course objectives is that students learn how to read a textbook, and I find that students who actually print out the sections and take notes on them do better than students who don’t,” he said.
A freshman Biology major at Edinboro University, who preferred to be kept anonymous, admitted to not seeing much value out of the online textbook use in his chemistry class. “I don’t really use the online materials other than to do homework.”
“I’ve noticed that students try to do everything in their heads instead of writing it all down as they would have when using an actual textbook,” said Wolbert.
Olin also noticed a decrease in student use once the textbook transferred from physical to online: “I started using the online OpenStax chemistry textbook last semester, and I’ve noticed that students use of the textbook has decreased.”
Despite the cons, professors have been requesting e-textbooks at an increased rate and bookstores have begun to see an increase in the sales of online textbooks.
Edinboro University Bookstore Manager Ray Fisher said, “We don’t have the numbers, but I generally have noticed an increase in the amount of instructors who have asked us to source materials that are available online or as an e-textbook.”
“We aim to give students as many choices as possible,” Fisher said. “That’s why when e-textbooks are available for the textbook that an instructor has requested, we make that available to students. And that obviously is easier on students monetary wise.”
With the increasing number of professors assigning e-textbooks, regular textbooks might be gone for good.
Shayma Musa can be reached at email@example.com.