E-textbooks: an alternative, not a replacement

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

January 25, 2007 Ed Cartoon

The beginning of a new school semester also marks the beginning of another arduous journey: buying textbooks. To battle the high costs â€" not to mention the weight â€" of textbooks, the University of British Columbia introduced e-textbooks at its campus book store.

E-textbooks are a relief to students who don’t want to lug heavy textbooks; they’re also roughly 20 per cent cheaper than used textbooks.

For the environmentally conscious and studious, e-books can also save thousands of pages of paper for the average student, especially those with hefty reading lists.

While selling back textbooks is a way to make back some money, the cash returned may only be a fraction of a given text’s original price. Furthermore, many books can’t be resold when professors continually change course book lists.

However, depending on the faculty and the student, an e-book may be an annoyance rather than a convenience if the assigned reading is a lengthy novel or article and the reader finds it difficult and uncomfortable spending extended periods of time facing a computer screen.

It also may take students longer to complete e-readings considering the number of online distractions, including talking to friends on MSN Messenger, listening to music, surfing the Internet and playing games.

Computer accessibility poses problems for e-textbooks. While many students have laptops, many students don’t. Some courses require continuous reference to textbooks during lectures, which wouldn’t be possible for everyone. Furthermore, e-textbooks can’t be kept for future reference as their “time-bomb” feature destroys them one year after purchase.

If they can overcome privacy restrictions like password protection, thrifty students could share copies of the books with their friends by printing or e-mailing readings â€" saving them money, but threatening e-publishing companies’ financial stability. With tempting features like copy and paste available at students’ fingertips, e-books may also increase the temptation to plagiarize.

E-textbooks could be “the way of the future,” especially for younger generations born into the Internet age and comfortable working on computers. However, considering e-textbooks’ drawbacks, they shouldn’t be students’ only option if introduced on a wide scale.

Print textbooks should remain available to students who learn better away from a screen. E-textbooks should be a choice â€" available to those who are technologically savvy, cash-strapped or looking to lighten their heavy backpacks.

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