E-Enabled Textbooks: Lower Cost, Higher Functionality

As digital rights management matures as an industry, delivering secure electronic content is becoming more than a virtual reality for intellectual property owners. Publishers, who for years were reluctant to venture into online content distribution for fear of losing control of their assets, are beginning to partner with content delivery vendors to sell course materials online.
Such companies secure content by using encryption keys or some other means of control. They then package the text content with a variety of value-added features, such as hypertext functions that appeal to students used to finding information on the World Wide Web.
Publishers offering these e-enabled texts are beginning to promote them to potential adopters. Professors who have tried e-enabled textbooks point to several unique advantages. For one, e-books can be updated continuously, ensuring that content is current. A printed textbook, on the other hand, must go through a long publishing cycle—writing, producing, printing, and distribution—before reaching student hands. So by their very nature, printed books are a year old before they leave the warehouse.
In disciplines where new information becomes available all the time, e-books have a decided advantage. Likewise, because publishers can update e-books at any time, mistakes can also be corrected soon after publication, rather than lingering until the book is revised three to five years later.
For Randol Larson, who teaches computer networking courses at Estrella Mountain Community College near Ph'enix, up-to-date content was absolutely critical. "In my opinion, technology textbooks are a waste of natural resources," he says. "They're out of date the moment they're published. Because of their short shelf life, students don't even want to hold on to them."
Larson uses Course Technology textbooks and recommends that students buy a version produced by Rovia Inc., which offers a secure, Web-based application—the RovReader—that enables users to view documents while complying with copyright law. Students and professors download the RovReader for free, then open the e-enabled textbook within it. Larson likes the fact that RovReader textbooks are updated often, so students get timely content without having to rely on a publisher's Web site for corrections and additions.
Rovia's customers include such major publishers as Houghton Mifflin Co., Thomson Learning, and Pearson Education. Course books are available in 23 disciplines. Typically, a RovReader-enabled electronic textbook costs about 30 percent less than a printed textbook. What it may lack in tactile satisfaction and, ultimately, portability it attempts to make up for with added functions.
First of all, e-textbooks look the same as the printed books in terms of layout, design, and pagination. With the electronic pages, however, students can click on links to visit related Web sites, or see test banks, flash cards, audio, video, and other multimedia tools referenced in the text. Both students and professors can highlight sections of the text, take notes, and bookmark pages. Users can also search the entire text by keyword.
Finally, Rovia has made strides in rivaling printed books' portability: Not only can users access their text from any Internet connection, but they can also "check out" chapters to read off-line. Downloading the day's assignment gives students the flexibility to read it at a convenient time and location, not necessarily when he or she is online in the crowded and noisy computer lab.
Larson takes advantage of all the RovReader's functions. In class, his lectures are accompanied by large screen images of the text pages. Although he d'esn't lecture from the book, he d'es rely on the e-enabled version as support for his lectures. So, even though fewer than 50 percent of his students have opted to purchase the RovReader version of the text, they all benefit from it in the classroom. And because Rovia's Create Page Link tool allows Rovia-enabled textbooks to be integrated with any Web-based application, Larson can import the text material into Blackboard for his presentations.
Besides saving paper, reducing waste, and facilitating constant revision, e-books offer another benefit, Larson says. Auditory learners and students for whom English is their second language can use the spoken word function to have the book read aloud to them, replacing or reinforcing their own reading of the text.
Larson wishes more than half of his students would take advantage of the RovReader-enabled text option, but he is heartened to see more students each semester opting for e-books. "My students tease me because everything in my class is electronic. There's no paper," he says. "But I think they are beginning to see the benefits."

For more information, contact Randol Larson at randol.larson@emcmail.maricopa.edu.

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