On average, college students spend $700 to $1,000 on textbooks each year, according to a study conducted at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. That’s roughly $58 to $83 per month, an amount that far exceeds the budget of the typical college student.
As technology continues to advance, this “upgrading” has also made its way into colleges. Students have begun to set aside traditional textbooks and are compelled toward online versions.
There are mixed feelings regarding this growing change. Professors and students alike are approaching this new option carefully and weighing the pros and cons.
Brandon Woudstra teaches in the business and economics department. He used the traditional textbook his first year of teaching Principles of Marketing. He then made the switch to the online version, Aplia, in the second year for two reasons.
The online version of the textbook was far less expensive than buying the traditional copy, and there are special features included in the digital copy.
“I really like the online Aplia quizzes,” Woudstra said. “Students can do the quizzes while reading.”
When using Aplia, students are able to go back and forth between reading and a quiz. This helps them to absorb important material better.
Though he does use the online version for his class, Woudstra prefers the traditional textbook.
“I like hard copy,” Woudstra said. “But I’m not sold 100 percent on either of them.”
Each presents their own set of pros and cons, but the online quizzes pushed ahead enough for Woudstra to switch. As for online taking over completely, Woudstra said that he thinks it is highly unlikely. Though he primarily uses Aplia, there are three hard copy books available for his students to use on reserve in the library.
“People want both versions,” Woudstra said. “It’s whatever the customer wants.”
Although companies may want to lean toward online only, they are still a business and will have to accommodate their customers.
Ann Minnick is one of the traditional textbook supporters, though she is sympathetic to the idea of moving online and the environment issues of making traditional textbooks. Many people argue that switching to online will be safer for the environment, but some studies from The Booksellers Association suggest that textbooks account for only one percent of timber harvested and therefore have little effect on the environment.
“I like the act of holding a book,” Minnick said.
She also likes being able to highlight the pages and to skim through and go back a few pages quickly.
Minnick attended a conference about online textbooks a month ago. “That’s the way of the future” was a phrase she heard often. If textbooks are moved online, Minnick thinks the prices should be reduced because there won’t be any production or distribution cost like traditional textbooks.
In regard to the environmental concern, Minnick does argue that traditional textbooks are being reused quite a bit, and websites have been formed that buy and sell gently used textbooks.
Reading off a screen also proves difficult for some people, and she agrees that it is harder to be engaged while staring at a screen.
“Maybe it’s my generation,” Minnick said. “I’m a physical book lover. It’s part of who I am.”
Hannah Garbison shares similar views to Minnick’s. She is currently taking Spanish 201, which requires using an online textbook.
“I like a regular textbook better,” Garbison said.
There have been instances when the Internet isn’t connecting and students have to spend more time on their assignments.
“When it’s all working, it’s fine,” Garbison said. “But I think having strictly online wouldn’t be that great.”
Garbison suggested something more like a downloadable book. This feature would eliminate the issue with Internet connections. This would also benefit the environment, a common argument for greater implementation of online textbooks.
“It would be cool to save some trees,” Garbison said.
Having online textbooks also poses another problem: distractions. Social media sites are one click away, and it’s easy to get caught up in something else while taking a quick “study break”.
Nate Horstman is firmly against online textbooks. He uses the Aplia textbook for the Principles of Marketing class and does not like it.
“I like having a book in my hands,” Horstman said.
He also pointed out the difficulty of having online textbooks for students who don’t have their own laptops or have limited access to other computers. He thinks the switch to fully online will never happen because companies would lose a lot of their market.
Overall, the online textbook has its pros and cons, just like traditional textbooks. The average textbook costs $40 to $200, and online prices are cheaper. The main setback for online, however, is the need for Internet connection. Without it, the book is rendered useless and students are unable to complete assignments.
Technology is constantly upgrading, but there will always be people who stand behind the traditional methods.