E-Books for post-secondary education
Ebooks have hit Kindles, ipods and other devices in many areas, including education. There are lots of programs out there for young children, but fewer for higher education. For example in teaching freshman chemistry at McGill, we are high tech. We have huge screens; power point slides; internet access (my son Skyped me once when I was teaching 600 students, much to their amusement); I can pull up Wikipedia, or any other programs, (I like the phet Physics simulations); we have clickers (so the students can vote on questions asked in class), and the whole kit and caboodle is recorded so the students do not even have to attend the lectures.
Yet they have to buy a text book which costs about US$175 (In Canada). In our two classes there are 1100 students. Multiply by the average of 5 courses students usually take and you can see that books are a major expense. And this is just one class. Do the math, and students shell out a lot.
Then there are the tons of trees that are sacrificed. Our text for freshman chemistry weighs 3 kg (6.6 lbs)! Money-conscious students usually sell their texts and the second hand market blossoms. After about three years, the book is down to $50 or so and the book companies start to lose their market. If it were a regular book, then when a print edition runs out more are printed if needed, but not in the text book market. Although new editions appear with claims of new improvements and corrections, the dominant reason for a new edition is to get the market back. If the book was selling like hot cakes, then new editions are rarely contemplated.
You cannot copy protect hard copy.
The text that the team teaching our course chose is General Chemistry by Petrucci et al and is in it 10th edition! The only changes I noted from the 9th were the addition of a few more problems. The general rule to justify a new edition is that it should have about 20% new content. This is rarely the case.
Companies desperate to hold onto their market share, inundate teachers with the plethora of “resources”, such as a web site (usually not good and not used much by students anyway); other multimedia; solution manuals; and study guides. These are considered a necessary burden by text book companies, but they jack up the price.
It should not be this way and today, with computer technology, the heavy environmentally unfriendly hard copy text books should be rejected by teachers in favour of ebooks, if available.
The developing world needs these books too, but cannot afford them, so they ignore copyrights and make them out of cheap paper and sell them for a few dollars.
I believe it is long overdue to do away with hard copy text books altogether, along with their high cost, and adopt ebooks.
Think of the advantages: no paper, nothing to ship, can be updated so users always have the latest edition, integrated into the internet, easy to copy protect, and can be sold for a fraction of the price of hard copy. No resale market.
Moreover the usual hard copy text contains way too much material for a two semester course–with about a thousand pages. Ebooks can readily be broken up into modules which are focused on the material needed for a course. As one of the authors of Physical Chemistry by Laidler Meiser and me, we got the copyright from Houghton Mifflin and have made it into a copy protected pdf with built in multimedia popups, and an extensive free solution manual on-line. Although the full ebook is available, there are six modules covering thermo, electrochem, kinetics, quantum, stat. mech., and solids and liquids. The starting price is only $14.99, (a 5 month license) a far cry from $150 plus. A semester course is usually four months, so a 5 month license fits the needs of many students.
Copy protection is essential and we have developed an MCHPDF viewer that takes any number of books in pdf format and secures them. That is the PDF viewer acts like a library of copy protected ebooks, with license expiry and updates built in. Give us your pdf ebook and we will give you royalties much greater than anything offered by a text book company.
However one of the most exciting aspects of ebooks is to reach the developing world. Many just cannot afford paper. Even if individuals cannot afford to buy their own copy, governments, organisations and universities can instead obtain a fixed number of licenses at a reasonable cost, making the ebooks available to millions of people.
Today it is natural for students to read and study from a computer. When I compare ebooks with hard copy, I can find nothing to favour the latter over the former. What’s your take on this?