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College kids hate textbooks. Can e-books really help?

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It’s no secret that most college students aren’t crazy about textbooks. But will moving required-reading materials to an e-book format really change all that? A new market research study indicates that it just might.

Seventy-three percent of college students who responded to a new Kelton Research study sponsored by education software startup Kno said they’d be willing to do something they might not normally do — including giving up dating or sex — if they could never carry another textbook.

That sounds a bit sensational, but it makes more sense when you think about the financial and physical burden that college textbooks represent: College students can expect to spend some $2,400 on textbooks during their undergraduate careers, and a quarter of students have to carry in excess of 20 pounds’ worth of books on a typical day, according to the study.

But would shifting to a digital format really make students fall in love with “books”? The research data implies that it certainly could help. Sixty-two percent of respondents said they would study more often if they could access their textbooks from anywhere without having to carry them around, and 54 percent said it would make their studies more efficient. A full 71 percent of college students said they were keen to “go digital” by putting required-reading materials on a mobile or desktop application or through the web.

Even so, many educational software companies have not taken off as quickly as many may have hoped. Kno itself was forced to pivot earlier this year after a number of launch-related hiccups. But now that college students are wanting to go digital more than ever, the tide may finally start to turn away from traditional textbooks for good.

Image courtesy of Flickr user pmccormi  

9 Responses to “College kids hate textbooks. Can e-books really help?”

  1. There is an advantage to etextbooks if the publishers would be willing to make a couple of changes. First of all, no one wants to read a 400 page textbook online. So make some of the chapters etextbooks. Second of all, you can produce a couple of chapters of a full print textbook in e-format pretty quickly and keep current rather than having to wait 4 years as you do with the print format. In would be a new mind set for the publishers and they may not be willing to change until they have to make the change.

  2. Leon Traverse

    I think the benefits of electronic media can be quite compelling for students, but we need to evolve past the idea of “eBooks on eReaders” to really see the advantage.

    The limited ebook/ereader view of digital content is not very compelling as it seeks to imitate the analog publishing model which inherently reduces the value of digital media and their device capability.

    A textbook will offer you text & images in a heavy and expensive brick that is obsolete in short order. An ebook on an ereader will offer you text & images in a lighter form factor, but it usually cannot be shared, edited, or resold, and the cost is still too high. This is the old way of doing business that is influenced by publishers, printers, and book stores that are holding onto their outdated model.

    Digital content can break this model quite easily because schools and professors do not need publishers to invest heavily in printed products that need to be stored, distributed, returned, exchanged, and wasted with each new revision. These logistical costs force bookstores and publishers to closely guard their intellectual property, and squeeze consumers for every penny.

    Many of the limitations or drawbacks mentioned here are easily solved with improved software, improved digital content, and a willingness to move beyond the old textbook publishing model. Our educational content should be cheaper, dynamic, updatable, lendable, editable, and resellable.

    With improved software/hardware you can solve many of the perceived limitations of an ebook/ereader. For example, there is no reason you cannot draw or write notes on your device, and you should be able to interact with more than just text or pictures. The technology already exists to create interactive ebooks that include videos, learning games, and social networking tools.

    This may currently be a limitation for some eReaders, but it is not a limitation for tablets like the iPad or Nook.

    One could share notes with other classmates and students online around the world, or open up online discussions regarding referenced course material while reading. There is truly no limit except our imagination and drive.

    BTW, students are usually NOT lazy. They simply are not excited by the content being offered, or the format their content is presented in.

    This is an issue of engagement, and not an issue of preventing students from accessing digital technology or tools. I deplore teachers who value busy work(wasted time) over using digital tools to increase efficiency.

    Teachers, schools, and publishers need to evolve their understanding of how to engage students using the technology they seem to fear, because they add tremendous value to a classroom.

  3. Price, price price. Students care about price. They don’t care about the edition number or any other aspect than to make sure they can use the book to get a good grade and don’t go broke doing it. It has nothing to do with eTextbooks, it is all about price. We wouldn’t be renting print books or licensing access to eTextbooks if the price was $39.95, would we? I don’t think there would be any conversation about the textbook industry if the total cost was lower. Why is it that eTextbooks have an expiration date when you get them from Cengage, Pearson, Wiley, etc. but common fiction books for the Nook or Kindle don’t?

  4. I disagree Fred. National standard has a drawback of bringing “unified knowledge” of students, and in Europe it’s really common that college students inside a particular country all know the same stuff after high school due to unified high school degrees and textbooks. The real solution would be, in my opinion to make textbooks hold their value for a longer time so they become investments and not something you can throw away after you are done.

  5. manoj singh raghuwanshi

    i to experience during my teaching that college students prefer short cuts but if we provide them good notes through text books/ref books they will prefer it,e- book is also a good option

  6. I tried eTextbooks. I didn’t have a good experience.

    It’s not easy to flip through and electronic book. It’s not easy to write notes in. Oh sure, I can highlight and write simple text, but I can’t draw anything (maps, equations), make arrows linking sentences, etc.

    They would require a specific piece of software/hardware, so if you bought the textbook for a app/tablet, and it wasn’t a good experience, good luck. Something about DRM and education, I don’t like.

    Also, they make us students lazy. Ya, go to the question and search the book for key words. Normally what the teacher really cares about is what is around the paragraph.

    I had some teachers who had a strict no iPhone, iPad, laptop rule. So I wouldn’t even be able to bring in my device.

    Oh, and power. Ya, my textbook would run on batteries :P (don’t hate on me, I read on a Nook)

  7. Textbooks are actually superior to E-Books, but students are extorted to buy most of them. Do we really need new math and english texts every other year? Do the fundamentals change so much that we must pay $200 for a new book?

    E-Books claim to address the issue – but they don’t. In fact, they make it worse, as the professor / publisher now can make your book expire, relieving you of any residual value. They’re a lot harder to read as well.

    The answer is to get the college industrial complex to agree on national standard materials for common coursework. Good luck.

    • Colleen Taylor

      All very interesting points, Fred. Thanks for the feedback.

      The college industrial complex indeed seems to be a beast to grapple with — and it’s only getting bigger!

    • Buying a new version of a textbook is ridiculous. What was so bad about Health Book 2010, that there has to be a Health Book 2011!?!?

      I had this one professor who was the bomb. Didn’t care which edition you had. He preferred the 7th edition (from the year 2000!)