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The Dialogue


Should professors consider e-textbooks rather than print textbooks to help lower costs for their students?


cost-effective, environmentally-friendly, adaptable—what's not to like?

David Moskowitz

Tell me if you have heard this one before: A freshman walks into a classroom. Weighing in at over 20 pounds, her backpack is bulging. An introductory American government text, a college algebra text, a Norton Anthology of American Literature, one five-subject, spiral notebook, an academic year planner, assorted writing implements, an MP3 player, and a novel she is reading for pleasure.

She sits down next to a friend carrying only a laptop in a stylish messenger bag. Total weight, a little less than 5 lbs with enough room left over for the odd library book for the end of semester term paper. Just one of the benefits of e-books, they are physically less taxing on the back.

The benefits of e-books don’t stop there: they are cost effective (no printing or shipping costs), environmentally friendly (no pages means no trees had to be sacrificed for knowledge and no use of inks that are not biodegradable), and are adaptable for students with poor vision (you can change the size of the text by changing the zoom setting in your software program, or better yet, you can use a text-to-speech program to have your laptop read your e-book to you).

E-books can be printed out for those who like the feel of paper in their hands when they read (just make sure that you recycle the paper when you are done), and new content can be added on the fly (via instant updates, or hyperlinks embedded in the text of the book).

You will have to go to the gym, though, to work out to make up for the lack of strength training that you once got from lugging around a 20-plus pound backpack. What is not to like about e-books?

David Moskowitz, is a political science professor at Roger Williams University in Bristol, Rhode Island, has taught undergraduate and graduate students for nearly 20 years and has won two university-wide teaching awards. He is a member of the Roger Williams University Faculty Association.


to promote equity, give students an option between e-textbooks and print textbooks.

Erma H. Hughes

It is time for a national standard and process for ensuring students are given a choice between print textbooks and e-textbooks, both at an affordable cost.

E-textbooks create at least the appearance of a two tier learning environment. Students who have unlimited access to computers and printers would have a serious advantage over the students with limited access. In today's society, many students are working along with attending school, creating a multitude of schedules and problems for students who don't own computers. These students would not always have access to a computer, the Internet, and a printer outside of hours for school computer labs and libraries.

In addition, there are some 21st century students who still remain devoted to the old-fashioned, paperbound textbook. Since laptops are present on college campuses and textbook prices are on the rise, technologically inclined students seem poised to change their study habits, save a lot of money by forgoing scribbles in the margin and trading in their highlighters for cursors. But some don't. The answer, I think, would be to give the students an option between e-textbooks and print textbooks.

Finally, the cost advantage might not be as much as it seems. Students have different learning styles. Textbooks make it easy to highlight text with difference colors and take notes. Students who want to do this electronically will spend more money purchasing printer cartridges and paper, merely shifting the cost to another area. With the current economy, students are looking to save more money if they can resell the used print textbook back to the bookstore or to another student.

Erma H. Hughes is an executive secretary in the Office of Instructional Technology Services at Jefferson State Community College, Birmingham, Alabama, served on the Alabama Education Association Postsecondary Board and is a graduate of the NEA Emerging Leaders Academy. It is time for a national standard and process for ensuring students are given a choice between print textbooks and e-textbooks, both at an affordable cost.

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