Saturday, December 18, 2010

C&EN > Digital Textbooks

Chemical & Engieering News / Volume 87, Number 30 / July 27, 2009 / pp. 54 - 57 / Sophie L. Rovner

E-books Show A Lot Of Promise But Haven't Yet Caught On Widely With Professors And Students

The era of digital textbooks seems to be perpetually around the corner. Publishers have made these e-books available for a number of years, yet it’s difficult to find a chemistry professor who uses them.


And less than half of all college students are even aware of digital textbooks, notes Frank Lyman, executive vice president of CourseSmart, a major digital textbook provider. Nevertheless, Lyman says that his company has sold digital textbooks to “hundreds of thousands of students at over 5,800 colleges and universities in North America” since it was founded in August 2007. “Our sale of e-textbooks has increased 600% year over year, which is a clear indicator that the digital model is being embraced by students and faculty,” he says.

[snip] In the recent past, students and professors might have been put off by the perception that “an e-textbook was just a scanned PDF of the original book,” Barreto says. But now, he explains, “people are starting to realize there are all these other features incorporated into the e-book that add value.”

Those attributes vary from book to book and also depend on the device used to read the book. They include the ability to highlight sections of text for later review and to make notes that can be saved in the e-book. Students can also use social-networking tools to share those notes with others in class who have the e-book. [snip]. Some books incorporate videos or animations, ... .

A multitude of chemistry textbooks are available in a digital format. They include “Basic Concepts of Chemistry,” by Leo J. Malone and Theodore Dolter; “Chemistry in Context,” by Lucy Pryde Eubanks, Catherine H. Middlecamp, Carl E. Heltzel, and Steven W. Keller; and “Organic Chemistry,” by Janice G. Smith.


Reports from academics who spoke with C&EN indicate that digital textbooks have met with a mixed reception from students.

Last fall, Middlecamp, a textbook author and faculty associate at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, met with student representatives from her general chemistry course for nonmajors to consider the relative merits of the print and digital versions of “Chemistry in Context,” which is developed by the American Chemical Society and published by McGraw-Hill.

“The students discussed factors such as cost, ease of use, and ability to sell back the book,” recalls Middlecamp, who is one of the book’s authors. “They soon came to the consensus that they should have the choice of either” a print or digital version. This fall, for the first time, Middlecamp plans to offer her students both options.


Students who do commit to buying digital textbooks will find they come in a variety of formats. Each publisher sets its own digital-rights-management policies, which dictate whether an e-book’s contents can be printed and whether access to the book ever expires. [snip]. Others restrict printing. Some sell a subscription that gives students temporary online access to a book for terms such as 180 days for a lower price than for permanent access. Other publishers permit customers to download the digital book file to a computer or e-book reading device.

College students can buy digital textbooks online at a publisher’s website or through digital stores such as CourseSmart,,, VitalSource, or Amazon’s Kindle Store. They can also purchase them by buying a card at a campus bookstore and then typing in a code from that card on the vendor’s website, which will then allow them to view or download the e-book. Some vendors, including, offer individual digital chapters for sale. [snip]


In an effort to curtail the state’s expenditures, [California] Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger launched the Free Digital Textbook Initiative in May. He says the initiative is the nation’s first program to make free digital textbooks available to high school students. [snip].


Free digital textbooks can already be found at sites such as Merlot, which offers a collection of online educational materials; Scribd, a service that allows users to upload and share documents, including books; or even authors’ websites.


For now, publishers and educators believe that digital and print options will coexist for a while.

“The most important thing is for educators to get a handle on how to teach the students of the 21st century,” NCCU’s Ellenson says. “For some people you’ve got to have books; for some people the e-books are going to work better. No single solution, in my mind, is appropriate for the diversity that is present in our classrooms today.”



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