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Digital Textbooks: Ready For Primetime?

You can, but only in Florida.

State-funded universities in Florida have begun to offer free digital textbook to their students. At current time, over 120 textbooks are available for free download through a partnership between Orange Grove Texts Plus and University Press of Florida.

The Board in charge of public universities in the sunny state of Florida started this program in order to (obviously) cut costs for students. Representatives from Orange Grove Texts Plus as well as the University Press of Florida are currently trying to  get professors to submit their texts to the program.

The program will also offer books in their original format for up to half the price of what you might find in a bookstore. In fact, the entire program is set to rely on the discounted textbooks sales to pay royalty fees to authors in the short term. The program does not have a long-term viability plan.

According to a survey of college students conducted by Orange Grove:

  • 22 % of students were uncomfortable reading a textbook from a computer screen.
  • 33 % of students were comfortable using digital textbooks.
  • 75 % of students preferred to use a print textbook.
  • 60 % of students said they’d buy the discounted textbook through the program even though there was a free version online.

While having free textbooks available free for download would be awesome, I’m not convinced it’s very practical. I prefer to have a bound, hardcopy that I can highlight, dog-ear, maim and otherwise use without having to plug it in. I do like the fact that the program is offering discounted hardcopy versions of the free, digital versions.

You can view the book database that public Florida Universities are using for distribution of their free, digital textbooks here. It appears that users can download a .pdf version of the document. This means people will be able to print out the textbooks if they wish.

A similar program here at Penn State would be incredible. With 40,000-odd students all buying a seemingly infinite combination of expensive textbooks every semester, even having 120 free, digital textbooks available would help. This program would also be incredibly wonderful for those classes where the professor makes students buy the textbook, but rarely ever uses it for class or homework. Books for entry level classes like CAS 100, Econ 002, English 015, Chem 101, Calc 140, Math 021 and language classes could be offered in a similar program. This would alleviate costs for books that large percentages of Penn State Students have to buy.

What if Penn State took the free, downloadable textbook concept one step farther? Penn State could furnish students with an e-book reader like the Kindle to use during the entirety of their college career. Students would be able to download books on the cheap (or hopefully free) and get periodicals like newspapers and magazines on the fly. The Kindle is currently part of a pilot program at Universities like Princeton where the response by program participants has been chilly to say the least. The main drawbacks the students cite is the difficulty in annotating text, highlighting and citing accurate page numbers.

Until e-readers like the Kindle can reproduce the reading experience that people have with hardcopy textbooks, programs like the one going on in Florida are going to become more and more prevalent as textbooks become more expensive. Hopefully a low-cost innovative concept can be produced in the future to bridge the gap between digital and hardcopy textbooks. And hopefully, the result is low-cost.

Before this article was published, the Stately Inquisitor pleaded me to ask all you Onward Staters a simple question – what can Penn State do to help students combat expensive textbooks? So leave a comment. Who knows, Graham Spanier might even take your idea into consideration. We know G-Span is a frequent reader of Onward State.

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About the Author

Steve S.

Steve Sharer is a Security and Risk Analysis major and an overall good guy. He brings Onward State readers enticing posts such as "Question of the Day" and "Campus Explorer" and will continue to do so until he becomes the President of the United States of America in 2024.


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