AUBURN – Students in an award-winning professor’s biology course at Auburn took part in an experiment during fall semester – not a biology experiment, but one aimed at reducing the cost of textbooks, which frequently cost $100 or more for each book.
After using a hardcover biology text for most of the semester in Associate Professor Bob Lishak’s Biology 1010 class, the students turned to a second text for the final few weeks. In the past, students have either had to buy the textbook for approximately $100, a used version for half to two-thirds that amount or its electronic version for approximately $65.
For the fall 2007 semester, educational support company Cengage Learning and the Department of Biological Sciences in AU’s College of Sciences and Mathematics gave students in Lishak’s class the option of ordering only the chapters they needed instead of buying the whole book, “Working with the Earth: Environmental Science” by G. Tyler Miller. The class covered about a third of the material in the Miller book.
The electronic chapters sell for $3.99 each, but in an introductory offer at AU, Cengage offered the book’s chapters for free to the class. Three local book stores – AU, Anders and Big Blue – also participated in the project, according to Cengage representatives.
While AU did not track the numbers in the core curriculum class, Lishak said he observed mixed results, with some students embracing iChapters and others bringing a textbook to class. In a show of hands, the majority said they used the hard-bound text rather than an electronic version.
Lishak, who received a Leischuck Award in 2006 as one of Auburn’s best teachers, said today’s students embrace computer technology for many aspects of their lives but remain ambivalent about electronic textbooks. “Some really like it, but a lot of them are just not ready to give up printed books. A lot of students like textbooks for highlighting or reading in bed or on a park bench; it is just not the same with a computer.”
Among those who agreed with Lishak’s observation was nursing student Mary Hood. “I don’t enjoy reading on a computer screen,” she said. “There’s something about holding the text in my hand and being able to dog-ear pages, underline or highlight that makes my comprehension of the text much better.”
Another student, psychology major Sunita Hall, chose the electronic version but borrowed her roommate’s hard-bound copy at times. “Being on the computer, I am tempted to surf the Web,” she explained.
Two students who chose electronic chapters saw advantages to the electronic version in addition to the cost savings. “I used iChapters because I could save the book to my flash drive and carry that with me instead of carrying around a book,” said Artis Eason, a business major.
“I am an out-of-state student and usually have to fly home, and it was nice to be able to only take my laptop home and still get all the reading assignments done,” said Marguerite DeWitt, a pre-engineering student from Maryland. “It made my carryon bag a lot lighter.”
Cengage executive Jurgen Pauquet said the company was looking for institutions and specific courses that provide a good fit when it included Auburn among a small group of institutions to introduce the iChapters. “Auburn is a great fit because of the school’s reputation as an educational innovator,” he said.
Pauquet added, “One reason this is such a great fit is because it introduces digital offerings to a class where they discuss sustainability. With iChapters, they are not wasting paper.”
While iChapters are a new option, Pauquet said electronic books have been gaining a rapid share of the textbook market and digital files now account for about half the company’s textbook sales.
Rusty Weldon of the AU Bookstore described electronic books as an emerging market, and the sale of individual chapters could have special appeal to students who have to use two or more books in a class. While purchasing several large and expensive texts at the start of the semester, some students will cut down on cost and the bulk in their bookbag by purchasing one or more electronic books at the same time. Instead of walking out with five books, they may walk out with three books and computer access codes for two others, he said.
Although tech-savvy students can bypass bookstores to purchase electronic books or chapters online, Weldon said many prefer to purchase them through the bookstore. “They are buying paper texts for some of their classes, and they want to be sure they are getting the right books in the electronic versions,” Weldon said.
“Students depend on the bookstore for information about what book to select and in what format,” he added. “The mix of hard copies and e-books may change over time, but we have a responsibility to meet the students’ needs, and that is not going to change.”