Local Colleges Experimenting with Electronic Textbooks

By Jd Velasco; Sgvn twittercom/J_D_Velasco | Pasadena Star-News, August 4, 2012 | Go to article overview

Local Colleges Experimenting with Electronic Textbooks


Jd Velasco; Sgvn twittercom/J_D_Velasco, Pasadena Star-News


From rising tuition costs to poor post-graduation job prospects, college students have a lot to gripe about these days.

Could electronic textbooks make their academic lives a little easier?

E-books have made inroads with the reading public in recent years, but they are just barely starting to gain acceptance on college campuses.

This month, Cal Poly Pomona announced that it is one of 25 universities participating in an e-book pilot program that would supply up to 800 of its 20,000 students with e-books this year. The university is working with two nonprofit organizations, Educause and Internet2, to make it happen.

"Rather than the student going to the bookstore and buying the book ... students will have the option of printing that book on their own equipment," said John McGuthry, chief information officer for the university.

Unlike some e-books that only work with a specific reader, such as Amazon's Kindle, the e-books being used at Cal Poly can be read on almost any device that connects to the Internet.

"You don't have to buy an iPad," McGuthry said. "If you didn't even have a computer, you could go into the library and use one of the computers there."

During the pilot program, students will be provided books for free. If a permanent program is put in place, students would either be responsible for purchasing their own books, or the university might purchase a license to distribute the e-books to its students. The university would likely then recoup its cost from the students through a book fee, McGuthry said.

Greg Jackson, vice president of Educause, which focuses on the use of information technology in higher education, said it hopes that universities will be able to negotiate lower book prices through that model.

E-books should be cheaper for a few reasons, he said. Unlike paper books, there are no shipping costs, printing costs would be non-existent, and publishers avoid printing textbooks that never get sold.

"You can do this more quickly and conceivably less expensively," Jackson said.

Zach Leary, a 28-year-old graduate of Azusa Pacific University - where e-books are already making headway - said he likes the idea of e-books mainly because they could be cheaper. He praised a recent California Senate bill that would require the state to create free online textbooks for the 50 most-popular college courses. That bill was passed by the Senate and is now being discussed by an Assembly committee.

The pilot program at Cal Poly is the third that Educause has helped arrange. During the first one, in Indiana, Jackson said they learned some basic requirements of e-books, most importantly that students would only use them if they could make notes or highlight passages.

"Students by and large have been very happy with this," Jackson said. …

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