EDUCATIONAL TECHNOLOGY, ONE STEP AT A TIME
Do teachers in higher education have an obligation to their students to offer them equivalent electronic textbook (e-textbook) alternatives or abandon textbooks altogether? I believe we have at least a moral obligation to do so.
I have to start with a disclaimer. I am somewhat of an outlier. I read digital books. I fact, I do just about all of my reading digitally. I also watch educational videos, listen to Podcasts and use a text-to-voice app that reads articles to me. When I did my Masters’ Degree I didn’t read from a single chemically reduced wood fiber product or write a single note with pen to paper. I am a fully integrated digital immigrant. But I understand why most teachers and students still love paper. My rant however is aimed at teachers. Love your paper. Read from your paper if you must. But give students digital alternatives to the 25 pounds of pulp product and let them decide the medium they like best. Why? It’s cheaper. It’s lighter (tablet). It’s better for the planet. And, you can do all the things with it that you can with paper, such as highlighting, bookmarking and annotating.
I teach at a medium size community college and every year in our program, as is likely the process at most colleges, we review and update our textbook list. This is the opportunity to look for digital equivalents for our students and to reflect on whether courses actually need a textbook. Nowadays, many textbooks come with a code to download the digital version or offer a discount for a standalone digital version. If a textbook doesn’t come with or offer a digital alternative, or if we can’t find an e-textbook equivalent by another author, then we should reconsider our textbook choices.
On an annual basis, the other faculty with whom I work and I review various e-textbooks for quality and price and to see if we can recommend free or less expense e-book alternatives. Openstax from Rice University is one source for free peer reviewed e-textbooks from which we recommend specific texts for specific courses. However, what the books from Openstax and many other e-textbook sources lack that would truly add value to the learner is digital interactivity. In an age where the volume and quality of multimedia is continually attracting the attention of our students, interactive e-textbooks (see video) are critically important for publishers to develop, whether they’re open source like Openstax or they are from the traditional publishing industry.
Over 50% of American college students have used an e-textbook in at least one course (deNoyelles, Raible, & Seilhamer, 2015). Some colleges, such as Algonquin and Lambton Colleges in Ontario, Canada, have gone completely digital. In an article in the Globe and Mail, Lambton College described their first year of the program as an adjustment for both students and faculty, but ultimately the benefits were extraordinary. One of the fears expressed about going digital is that students would prefer to have paper books. This was addressed, in Lambton College’s case, by providing each student with a tablet device with all of the eTextbooks and handouts preloaded on their device. In addition however, Textidium, the third party who provided the digital material and reading platform, also enabled students to make one printed copy of their books if they wished. While this might seem counterintuitive if the aim is to reduce the carbon footprint, most students chose not to print their materials, but with such a radical change as this, it’s nice for students to have the option if they prefer to read from paper.
The cost savings to students for purchased or rented e-textbooks can range from 25% to 80% according to some sources (Hein, 2015; Fontinelle, 2011; Webley, 2011).
One thing that distinguishes textbooks from other books is that the consumer, the student, doesn’t choose the textbook - it is chosen for them by the professor. Some describe this as a “broken market” since the professor who chooses the book but doesn’t pay for it and this allows the publisher to set high prices for a captive audience (Koch, 2006).
With the rising cost of school and the rising cost of textbooks, many students choose to buy used books, share a single text, rent or buy an e-textbook or simply attempt to get by without a textbook. In fact, 65% of students choose not to buy a textbook because of the cost (Kingkade, 2014). Who can blame them? Debt is crippling students and causing mental health issues (Press, 2016). As an educator I have no control over tuition fees, but I can reduce or eliminate the cost of books.
Does the student need a textbook or e-textbook to meet the learning outcomes? In most cases, probably not. In addition, consider that the minute a book is published, or even before it’s been published, it is already out of date. This may not be true of all subjects but it is certainly true of clinical medicine where research is changing patient care at a rapid pace. This is also true in many other science fields, such as physics and chemistry. Students recognize this lag because they are finding more up to date sources of information on the Internet through scholarly journals, sites like iTunes U and the Khan Academy, and even peer learning networks in the social media sphere.
Consider also that our goal as educators isn’t to pour the content of our minds and our textbooks into the empty cerebral vessels of our students. Our goal is to guide students to acquire and develop their own knowledge and understanding, and develop higher order thinking skills. In order for students to do this, and to become the independent lifelong learners we want them to be, we need to help them to navigate the immeasurable quantities media rich resources on the Internet for sources that are relevant, current, hopefully engaging, and credible. Information literate students benefit from the differentiated learning that comes from multiple learning sources and gives them the necessary lifelong skills to skeptically explore an information rich world. This requires a little bit more effort on the part of the educator to explore with their students rather than preaching from a book.
deNoyelles, A., Raible, J., & Seilhamer, R., (2015). Exploring Students' E-Textbook Practices in Higher Education.. Retrieved from http://er.educause.edu/articles/2015/7/exploring-students-etextbook-practices-in-higher-education
Fontinelle, A. (2011). Do e-Textbooks Help Students Save Money? Retrieved from http://www.investopedia.com/financial-edge/0811/do-e-textbooks-help-students-save-money.aspx
Hein, B., (2015). Why Your iPad Is Almost Always The Cheapest Way To Get Your Textbooks. Retrieved from https://www.cultofmac.com/185222/why-your-ipad-is-almost-always-the-cheapest-way-to-get-your-textbooks-back-to-school/
Kingkade, T. (2014). A Majority Of Students Say The Textbooks Are Too Damn Expensive. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/textbooks-prices_n_4675776
Koch, J., P. (2006). An Economic Analysis of Textbook Prices and the Textbook Market. Retrieved from http://www.immagic.com/eLibrary/CBICBT99/FIN_AID/US_ED/A060923K.pdf
Press, T. C. (2016). As student debt climbs to an average past $25K, schools invest in battling the mental-health issues it causes. Retrieved from http://nationalpost.com/news/canada/as-student-debt-climbs-to-an-average-past-25k-schools-invest-in-battling-the-mental-health-issues-it-causes/wcm/d6a4e21c-44d1-4455-8802-fa0b69f38b49
Webley, K. W. (2011). How Much Will Students Really Save Using Amazon’s E-Textbooks? Retrieved from http://business.time.com/2011/07/21/how-much-will-students-really-save-using-amazons-e-textbooks/