Publishers are turning a new page in higher education with an eye toward e-books.
While e-books and online technologies have held a place in education for a while, more companies are revealing plans to transition a majority of textbooks to online mediums.
Last week, publisher McGraw-Hill announced its aim to publish all of its textbooks online within the next
eight years. Apple and Amazon both have similar textbook and self-publishing goals.
“Over the next few years, I really do think that textbooks will be a thing of the past,” said U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan in a phone interview.
“There is pressure from other outlets, especially other countries, to make all of our content that is available ... on paper available to a larger population,” Duncan said.
Globally, the U.S. is behind in the race to become more friendly toward digital content. Publishers are now racing to catch up.
"We haven't produced anything that's print-only in over three years,” said Vineet Madan, senior vice president of new ventures for McGraw-Hill Education, in a Chronicle of Higher Education article last year.
“100 percent of what we have is available to school districts electronically," she said.
At Virginia Tech, millions of e-books are currently available through University Libraries, both inside Newman Library and through the off-campus sign-in process.
Through a subscription that Tech pays for, students can read the e-books via an Internet browser or download them for a finite amount of time.
"The University Libraries offer millions of books online, but that industry is at a very primitive stage. Publishers offer their works in formats that don’t always integrate very easily," said Brian Mathews, associate dean for Learning and Outreach for Tech libraries.
Some Tech instructors and professors have been toying with online technologies for years, from holding online office hours to offering complete textbooks via tablets and e-books.
“Students should keep in mind that this is only a snapshot, but the trend is certainly changing,” said Karen DePauw, dean of Tech’s graduate school, in reference to online textbooks.
“How we do education and how we provide opportunities for students is very important,” she said. “We need to allow for the most flexibility possible, and online resources are an obvious way to do that.”
With the advent of online textbooks and other digital learning technologies, these resources just might be the vision of the future, especially at Tech.
Senior Geography Instructor John Boyer is known on campus for using online resources to communicate with and teach his larger-than-average classes. He believes the digital classroom is inevitable.
Last week, Boyer revealed plans to launch an online comic to supplement the material for his popular world regions course. The interactive content will give lessons on international affairs, focused on Mexico.
“Who writes textbooks anymore?” asked Boyer. “You need experience with the digital textbook format in order to move forward. We are in a big age of
transition, we all know it is going to happen, but no one really knows how to make it happen properly.”
Boyer says the first line of offense is for publishers to take existing textbooks and get them into digital mediums.
“Some people are terrified of this, though, because then you can’t monetize it. There’s a lot of money to not be had through online mediums,” Boyer said.
Boyer fears publishers’ desire to earn money from textbooks misplaces priorities, because they can make more money in print form. He thinks moving toward digitizing content is in the best interest of his students.
For Houdayfah Kaddoura, a senior communication major, online textbooks are cheaper than paper versions, giving her an “enticing reason to switch to paperless.”
However, the cost may not always be enticing enough.
“If the reading is intensive, I would always rather pay for a hard copy,” Kaddoura said.
Katie Pritchard is Boyer’s technical assistant for his large classes, and is responsible for connecting each of the students with the professor. She notes that
Kaddoura's sentiment is common among students.
“There have actually been numerous studies that show that some students will prefer paper articles and books in some instances,” Pritchard said.
Despite that preference, both Boyer and Pritchard think the upshot to online technology for professors is getting on the same wave-length as students.
“Part of access is speaking the language that students want to speak in,” Pritchard said.
Boyer stressed the need for professors to understand the way students communicate through social media and other online mediums in order to really educate them.
“We can make students buy encyclopedias from 1950, but they don’t exist anymore. Why? Wikipedia,” Boyer said. “It’s the lingua franca now. Some textbooks are still around. But we must adapt accordingly.”
Boyer and Pritchard have set up a KickStarter page to raise money to fund the class' new online project, starring Boyer’s alter ego, the Plaid Avenger.
“This is going to be a graphic novel to entertain, excite, and educate … and with an experimental interactive comic app as well," Boyer said. "Plaid power to the people."
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