Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paper Books or Digital Books?

As online learning begins to infiltrate "brick and mortar" institution of higher learning, book publishers are pushing out more digital texts.  While for profits institutions like Strayer often write their own texts, keeping costs low, the $150 textbook still lives on most college campuses.

Recently, the New York Times opined on the topic in an article "In a Digital Age, Students Still Cling to Paper Textbooks." While conventional wisdom suggests this tech-savvy generation of students would jump at the opportunity to do more 'stuff' digitally, this is not the case:
The explosion of outlets and formats — including digital books, which are rapidly becoming more sophisticated — has left some students bewildered. After completing the heavy lifting of course selection, they are forced to weigh cost versus convenience, analyze their own study habits and guess which texts they will want for years to come and which they will not miss. 
California Launches Digital Textbook Initiative

Last year, California launched a digital textbook initiative, led by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, partially as a means of saving money [see Money magazine article]. He comments:

The textbooks are outdated, as far as I'm concerned, and there's no reason why our schools should have our students lug around these antiquated and heavy and expensive books," Schwarzenegger said this summer. "Digital textbooks are good not only for the students' achievement, but they're also good for the schools' bottom line. [Washington Post, October, 2009]
Digital texts can often cost half the price of traditional texts.  However, there is a tradeoff, as the student can only use the book for a limited time, often 180 days.  There also may be a learning curve by students (errr, faculty too) to fully understand and utilize the functionality of digital texts.  But as the screenshot below demonstrates, a digital text does provide more information than a traditional one.

With price being a major factor, the LA Times reports that free digital texts are making their way into the marketplace.  Part of the open source movement in education, new models are beginning to threaten the status quo which allow textbook companies to profit off of students.

I can remember the days of photocopying textbooks while in undergrad (now the librarian will arrest you if you do that), open source makes sense...education is expensive enough, why pay for a new edition? Except when MY book comes out, you NEED to buy that!

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