Thursday, January 21, 2010

Digital Textbooks – useful? If used correctly (Higher Ed)

So until recently, I was a big advocate of keeping textbooks in print format. My justification was sort of clear-cut and I couldn’t understand why some people disagreed. See, to publish a textbook that costs $100, perhaps after the cost of the print and the the whole retail level, the book might cost $80 or so. Now, $200 for a digital reader + 80 for the book? Digital formats = higher piracy rate, Back to $90 we go. Now, $10 per book saved. I spent 5 years as an undergrad, and didn’t purchase 20 textbooks. Average was 2 per semester, and I sold them back. Digital copies can’t be sold back. Perhaps a rental of them at half price might do.

Now that was fine and dandy until somebody sparked some imagination for me on Twitter the other day. @akamrt made the suggestion of collaborative textbooks. Now this was a “WOW” to me. I never thought of the idea, even after giving the topic much though. Now, I invite some insight on this. What is thought of the idea of having graduate assistants write textbook outlines and fill them in as class progresses. Very low cost, make it uploadable to Google Docs, perhaps and fully collaborative. This type of software, used throughout all four years of college, and there you go - $200-400 for all of your textbooks.

The idea of cognition arises, however with this. For higher-level classes, I would remember studying with three or four textbooks, not even necessarily from that class open, notes from three or four years of classes, and a mess of other things on my desk… for one exam. I don’t know that I can see doing this quite yet with digital textbooks. The notebooks are one thing, but the textbooks are iffy still. I’m all for helping the environment too!

Another factor that I want to bring up is subjects. I want you to think really hard about what subjects can this possibly not work almost at all for. Think hard… Think about laying out a bunch of pictures out. What subject is that? No? Art. Art history. Even for an introduction to art history, I would sit there with cutouts of about 30 different paintings I needed to remember. Color screens on a Kindle isn’t something we have, and not something I could see having cheaply.

So, working for some subjects, yes? But the end of textbooks as we know them? Far from it.