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Academic Technology Services blog

Electronic textbooks

There are many sources for online textbooks, which are generally cheaper than physical textbooks. This can be an option for the budget-conscious student, as the College Board reports that the average students spends more than $1000 a year on books and supplies.  Vitalsource, Pearson’s MyEducationLab (Pearson-published books only), and CourseSmart are a few I’ve used. Of course, there are several others available as well. The problem I’ve had with all of these, though, is that they generally haven’t offered ways to organize the notes and highlights in an easily exportable way, so I can study from them. Additionally, like regular textbooks, they are difficult to work with digitally. There’s usually a printable page limit and if I want the book “read aloud” to me, I have to go through multiple steps to get what I want.

There are several advantages to these e-textbooks, though, including cloud storage (books probably won’t get stolen), searchability (find that fact quickly), and lower up front cost to the student.

Another interesting option is wikibooks and other open text initiatives (I don’t include Project Gutenberg in this, as it pre-dates these initiatives and includes only published books in the public domain). These are books that are freely available to print and use. Some, like wikibooks, are editable by anyone, while others have a more limited authorship.

One might say that the Khan Academy and other free online courses are also part of this movement.

The textbook projects, however, will not take off without some changes. With no publishers to promote them, these resources are not well known and may have serious flaws. Additionally, I’m not aware of an easily searchable index of these resources, if someone did know about them and wanted to use one.

That’s why I think it will take a while for these free texts or resources to catch on, if they ever do.

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