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Digital books seen as classroom alternative

March 11, 2010

March 10, 2010 – 9:52pm
Alexandria Eldridge, News Staff

Searching for alternatives to textbooks that continually ramp up in cost, students are looking to electronic books more frequently.

James Eastham, the Students’ Union Vice President (Academic)-elect made textbook cost issues a central tenet of his election platform. He said that he’s noticed the trend that e-books are something students are interested in pursuing as an alternative to traditional textbooks.

“Lots of students that I’ve talked to suggested that they’d like to be able to carry their textbooks with them. And since they always have their laptops around, if they could just have them on their laptop that would be great,” Eastham said.

However, Leah Trueblood, the current Vice President (Academic), explained that there are copyright issues that are holding back widespread use of the tools.

“We’re still pretty limited in some ways by some of the digital rights management, some of the copyright regulation in Canada versus what happens in the United States,” Trueblood said.

Trueblood also pointed out that the cost of e-books is not yet low enough to make it a viable option.

“In Canada, the price was at least two-thirds of what it was in a paper version, which is obviously a big advocacy issue for us, because why if there are no shipping and printing costs is it remaining that expensive?”

Eastham noted that publishers don’t have incentive to reduce costs.

“Essentially the publishers can sell it for that, and because they don’t have printing and shipping costs they can make more money off of it, so why not? It’s the same reasons they change editions every year and the same reason that they bundle useless junk with your textbooks,” he said.

Eastham also pointed out that students can’t sell e-books back, so the costs might even be higher with e-books overall.

“There’s the fact that students can’t resell the book. Even if you’re providing cost savings initially, if you can get more than that by reselling the book than you’re not really providing much of a service,” he said.

When students are using an e-book, they rent the file for a period of time, which can lead to problems.

“There were issues with the time lapse expiring before students write exams, so if the times didn’t line up with our current academic schedule, then they lose the material,” Trueblood explained.

Regardless of these setbacks, Trueblood said that it’s important to give students the options to choose for themselves.

“We have an enormous student body with lots of different learning styles and lots of different lifestyles. I think it’s important that we’re able to provide students all the options that are available to them,” she said. “I don’t think at the current price, we’d have a lot of buy-in, but I do think there are some students that would benefit from them being available.”

Trueblood said that textbooks are not the only type of academic materials that students pay for. They’ve recently started taking iClickers — hand-held, multiple choice answer submitters — on consignment, and it’s important to consider if these academic materials are truly needed by students.

“I think it’s important that we think about all academic materials and that we’re concerned, not only with the amounts students are paying but the quality,” she said. “Do students really need a textbook with 13 chapters that have no relationship to the course material?”

Another option for reducing costs is textbook rentals, where students would rent a printed text for a reduced fee, and return it at the end of the semester.

Another priority is educating professors whether or not their material is available in the public domain. The SU is also working on negotiating edition freezes. Further, in the U.S., there is legislation to prohibit bundling, and Eastham said he will work on advocacy in all these areas.

“One of my big priorities is looking at ways to save students money on textbooks. This year it’s obviously a very bad year for students in terms of financial burden. I think anything we can do to alleviate that is great,” Eastham added.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2010 4:21 pm

    This project(plann)good idea. Absoltely

  2. Mason permalink
    March 12, 2010 5:02 pm

    Do you think everything is going digital? To replace a books and revamp the way in which we learning for the past 100 years seems far fetch. To help reduce the cost of textbooks, I was able to rent textbooks with textbookstop. I like this option because it gives me the ability to reduce the cost of my textbooks along with still providing me with a book.

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