Currently many students spend hours in the bookstore searching for the textbooks required for their classes. That trip might soon be unnecessary.
Publishers and professors alike have started making class material available online, putting students only a few keystrokes away from their reading assignments.
Trying to adapt to a market in which students are often unwilling to pay high costs for print editions, publishing companies are also producing electronic versions of textbooks. However, students are not the only ones to reap benefits from electronic textbooks. Publishers’ gradual transition to electronic textbooks also allows them to recoup profits that are lost when students who purchase used books.
Some professors see online books and materials as a way to give students information to which they would otherwise not have easy access.
Religious studies professor Donald Polaski utilizes the College’s Blackboard system to distribute shorter materials to students without making them pay for expensive anthologies.
“The benefit is getting, [in particular], primary texts into students’ hands fairly easily without making them buy a complete collection and without making them dig around to find [print] sources,” Polaski said. “You can give them a few chapters of an ancient text without having them purchase a whole collection.”
However, even with its benefits, Polaski is uncomfortable about assigning whole textbooks online. He cites issues of copyright infringement, as well as the College’s own policies regarding online sources.
“I would really resent having someone scan [my] entire work and [put] it online,” he said. “That’s taking advantage of somebody’s work.”
Some students, like Melissa Montagna ’11, prefer online material to its printed counterpart. She especially likes the convenience of being able to do all her reading for class on her laptop.
“I think electronic sources are better,” Montagna said. “Textbooks are way too expensive, so it saves you a ton of money. And it’s a lot handier.”
She also said that printing out articles was just as much of a hassle.
“My professors posted readings on Blackboard instead of having us buy books,” Montagna said. “We printed them out and the stack was like three inches thick.”
With the price of textbooks continuing to climb, some students have stopped buying them completely, choosing instead to download entire books from websites like textbooktorrents.com. These websites allow students to download — free of charge — entire texts on subjects ranging from chemistry to economics.
Montagna likes the idea of downloading textbooks for free but doubts it will ever be the norm at the College.
“I think there’s probably some copyright issue there, but that would be pretty amazing,” Montagna said.
“Plus, a lot of professors are pretty old school and haven’t warmed up to the idea [of online readings].”
Some students, like Casey Swann ’12, disagree that online texts are more user-friendly. Swann is part of a contingent of students who prefer their textbooks in print form.
“I really like having the material out in front of me,” Swann said. “I think it’s easier to read when it’s in textbook format rather than online.”
While not rejecting the use of online materials, some professors are more skeptical of the benefits of print sources to students.
Kris Lane, a history professor, sees the convenience of posting readings on Blackboard. However, Lane doubts their effectiveness for students.
“Folks who read stuff online approach it differently,” Lane said. “The way you engage it is different. You can be distracted easily by music or your surroundings, so there are lots of things that can get in the way of the reading. To me that’s a drawback.”