Column – Digital textbooks, better solutions?

August 27, 2010 — Leave a comment

Originally published in The Daily Toreador.

I didn’t make any crazy changes to my textbook purchasing routine this year. No rentals or digital downloads. I pretty much just drove up to Varsity and grabbed every used book I needed, holding off on a couple in case I’d rather order them off Amazon.

It’s kind of a bummer, though. This is my senior year, and I think I’ve been harboring some secret hope that I would be downloading textbooks directly into my brain &- “Johnny Mnemonic” style &- or at least taking advantage of one of these new, supposedly cheaper methods of obtaining textbooks by now. But so far, I’ve yet to be convinced to change my ways.

The Daily Toreador did a good story in our Thursday issue about bookstores using such new methods &- such as textbook renting &- to lower prices and bring in more revenue. I saw evidence of the popularity of renting when I bought my own books, as many students were filling out paperwork in order to rent their books.

It seems like a great idea, and I’m anxious to see how people react to this alternative to buying new books. But I’m just not ready to be part of the test market yet.

It definitely helps that I’m an English major. Many of the books I’m required to buy are novels or short story anthologies, which don’t run too expensive and which I often like keeping for my own collection anyway. I’ve also had good luck with kind professors who try to keep costs low. I once had a class with Brian McFadden, an English professor who was quoted in The DT’s textbook story, and he practices what he preaches. Required texts were inexpensive.

But I wonder if renting and eBooks are truly going to be the future, or if professors should still try to think outside the box in order to help students out.

For instance, I’ve had more than one professor who’s only required text was a $20 book printed at CopyTech. It helps when professors look at what they need to teach and think, “Hmm, all of this content is free online, so I’ll either provide print-outs or give students links.”

Obviously this just isn’t possible for every class, for a large variety of reasons (content availability, copyright restrictions, etc.), but wouldn’t it be great if it were? As more and more content is being made available online (supported by ads or what-have-you), I wonder if we should be looking for brand new methods or educating students.

I do think the written word is extremely important &- I definitely don’t think we should be moving towards some sort of all audio/video format &- but even that is evolving. With more and more schools providing laptops and even iPads to students, a lot of doors are being opened for ways to obtain information.

I personally thought pretty strongly about purchasing one of Amazon’s new Wi-Fi only Kindle eReaders, with the excuse that I could buy cheaper textbooks on the device (but the real reason being I could read more novels between classes). But I’m just not sold on the idea of purchasing digital textbooks, considering you can’t resell them and I’ll never want to look at my history books again after finishing their respective classes.

I’m curious what the Tech student body thinks about the future of textbooks as a whole. Did you go digital this year? Did you rent? How are those methods treating you so far? Let me know on DailyToreador.com, because I’m still on the fence. And besides, I’ve still got next semester to potentially join you guys in the textbook future.

Britton Peele

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Freelance video game critic for sites like GameSpot and GamesRadar. Amateur fantasy author.

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