If the state amasses a library of free books selected without faculty input, it may be only a matter of time before some lawmaker with a populist streak tries to mandate that faculty assign only those books in their classes.
Tampa, FL (PRWEB) December 29, 2009
The average college student’s textbook bill can run more than $1,200 a year. In a decade already marked by economic recession, high unemployment and dwindling student loans, that amount of money can be a huge burden. But if organizations like Orange Grove Texts Plus have their way, expensive – and bulky – paper textbooks might be a thing of the past.
Orange Grove Texts Plus is a partnership between the University Press of Florida (the Florida university system’s nonprofit publishing arm), Integrated Book Technology (a Virginia publisher) and The Orange Grove (Florida’s digital database of K-20 teaching material). This program offers students digital versions of over 140 textbooks and scholarly monographs for free, and bound printed versions for $30 to $50. Eventually, Orange Grove Texts Plus plans to stock more than 1600 titles.
Students Ready, But Others Might Not Be
Even with programs like Orange Grove Texts Plus springing up all across the country – Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California recently started such an initiative for his state’s high schools – digital textbooks only make up about 2% of the current market. But it is seldom students who resist this kind of technology. After all, they’ve grown up with computers and the Internet – they’re accustomed to getting their information online. Studying on a laptop, smart phone or wireless reading device is hardly a stretch for them.
However, college and university faculty members are another story – and sometimes with good reason. Jack Mecholsky, chair of the University of Florida’s Faculty Senate, recently told Inside Higher Ed that “If the state amasses a library of free books selected without faculty input, it may be only a matter of time before some lawmaker with a populist streak tries to mandate that faculty assign only those books in their classes.”
“That’s the danger, and I could see that happening,” said Mecholsky. “What happens is lawmakers have just made an academic decision that that textbook is right for all professors and all students taking that course, and that’s wrong.” He also went on to note that “It sounds so good the way they present it, but then you say what are the unintended consequences? And they don’t think about that at all. We’re constantly fighting things like that.”
An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Unintended consequences or not, the move to digital course materials is probably inevitable. A government study recently found that textbook prices have ballooned at twice the annual inflation rate over the past 20 years. This has become such a burden to students that some states have passed legislation aimed at making them more affordable, and for-profit businesses now see an opportunity to break into the digital textbook market.
CourseSmart is a company that has over 7,300 titles that students can buy at a significantly lower price than the traditional paper versions. And Amazon.com, now the largest book retailer in the U.S., is taking part in a study with seven universities to evaluate the success of digital textbooks. So even if free programs like Orange Grove Texts Plus don’t emerge as the standard, it appears that lower-cost, course materials are going to become more and more common in the coming years.
It’s a safe bet that few students will choose to strain their already-thin wallets on bulky textbooks if a less expensive option is made available. And course materials that can be stored and read on a computer or smart phone will appeal to today’s tech-savvy college students in any case. Even if it takes several more years for the trend to fully catch on, the time has come for textbooks to enter the digital era.
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