Ball State University as part of its Information Technology program has announced that it will be undertaking an e-textbook pilot study next year, starting in the fall. The intent is to find out if it might be possible to replace traditional textbooks with e-textbooks, reducing both the physical and financial burden that college students must now bear. According to the announcement, the main purpose of the program is to see if switching to e-textbooks can reduce the cost of a college education in this country.
In addition to reducing costs, moving to e-textbooks would provide other benefits as well, the strongest of which would be the introduction of new material into such textbooks as soon as they are made. Currently textbooks take a long time to write, edit and publish, which means they remain in the curriculum for a lengthy period of time to recoup such costs. If the publishing part of the equation could be eliminated and updates that need to be made to textbooks could be made and edited in a speedy manner, students could find themselves using material that is always up to date, as updates are made automatically from an online source.
Another benefit would be the introduction of more interactive type material. Instead of plain text, pictures and graphics, textbook writers and publishers could add animation, sound or links to other material on the web.
The University also notes that moving to e-textbooks would allow for a wider choice of textbooks and authors, some of which could hopefully come from the University itself. Thus course notes could very easily evolve into full fledged e-textbooks configured to work directly with course material.
To facilitate the pilot program University Information Technologists are working with bookseller Barnes & Noble, which of course makes and sells their own brand of ebook, under the Nook brand.
The University also notes that the introduction of e-textbooks at both the college level and below has been slow due to counter forces in the market, a not so thinly veiled reference to big name college professors and publishing who have a large stake in maintaining the status quo. And though they are not saying it directly, it appears likely that the University would move to using e-books instead of paper textbooks, removing themselves from the constraints of the established textbook market altogether. And if that happens, it’s hard to imagine the movement wouldn’t spread to other campuses, and perhaps eventually to high school, middle school and even grade school textbooks which are actually seen as the best candidates for conversation to a digital format.