Within the last few years, electronic textbooks have been showing up on campuses across the country. While advances in interactivity and lower prices have made them attractive options for some students, ebooks may have a long way to go before they replace their printed ancestors.
With NMU’s laptop initiative and proposed commitment to environmentally conscientious programs, it might seem like a natural progression for the university’s administration to support a switch from print to electronic textbooks for student use. Doug Roberts, chair of NMU’s Board of Trustees, said that the issue is more complicated than it first seems. He said that, despite some talk amongst board members about implementing ebooks on campus, such a decision is ultimately out of their hands.
“The Board, as a board, is not opposed to any of these issues,” Roberts said. “We’re for the technology, but we’re not pushing it as university policy.”
Book publishers would have to play a substantial role in the transition from print to electronic books, said Roberts. Publishing companies most often hold the copyrights to, and facilitate the sales of, textbooks.
“We couldn’t do it if we wanted to, (not) without the publisher’s permission. The publisher has to get paid, the same as they do now, in some manner,” Roberts said.
NMU has already been involved with electronic textbooks on campus. The NMU Bookstore offers several ebook options, in which students purchase a subscription code that allows them access to the online material.
Paul Wright, the assistant manager of the bookstore, said that sales for ebooks at NMU, while not exceptionally high, have improved this year. For one program called Jumpbooks, the bookstore has sold 34 ebooks so far, an increase from the 2 to 4 sales that they have made in past semesters.
Wright said that NMU has access to 282 available titles from Jumpbooks. He also said that student use of the material is similar to renting a textbook.
“It’s like a rental (because) your access to the material expires after a certain timeframe,” Wright said.
Ebooks are often used not as replacement texts, but as supplemental material in classes, he said. Some ebooks that are paired with print books can offer additional learning tools like sample questions and interactive quizzes. Wright said that these extra elements can be a major motivation for many students.
“(They) are seeing usability when there is additional content available with an (electronic) textbook. Those can be pretty useful learning aids,” he said.
Another major motivation for students to use ebooks can be price, said Wright. Jumpbooks typically cost 45-50 percent of printed versions. Despite a lower initial price, students should be aware of refund complications surrounding online material, he said.
“With electronic books, if you buy the book on Monday and drop the class on Thursday, the book is yours,” Wright said. “There’s really no way to refund at that point.”
Wright said that there are many reasons for ebooks not being as popular as their print alternatives, such as varying online formats between publishers, instructor preference for printed materials, and the different learning styles of students.
“There are a lot of studies out now about how students learn from ebooks (vs. print books). There are some pretty interesting differences and I think that’s something that needs to be looked at a lot more,” Wright said. “Just because (NMU) has the laptops, it doesn’t mean that that has to be the delivery system for course material.”
Karen Johnson, a senior sales representative for Bedford, Freeman and Worth Publishing, said that students have responded positively to the interactive aspects of an ebook. Students can use ebooks from Bedford, Freeman and Worth Publishing, a company that provides many textbooks to NMU, in traditional ways like highlighting text and taking notes, while also having access to an instant glossary of terms and being able to view additional visual presentations.
“By having these resources a click away, students are more likely to make use of them. (Ebooks) also provide a variety of ways students can access the information they need so, whether they learn better by reading, viewing video or listening to a podcast, it is all there in the e-book,” Johnson said.