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Florida State College Publishes Digital Textbooks

Five years after launching a project to develop low-cost and highly interactive course materials, faculty teams at Florida State College at Jacksonville have written 20 general education textbooks. The college has made the digital books available for sale through Follett Higher Education Group's e-book Web site, CaféScribe.

To serve distance learners who had intermittent or low bandwidth access to the Internet, the original initiative, called Sirius, was to replace traditional textbooks with low-cost alternatives--books with fewer than 150 pages that would include both a CD and online elements, such as study questions. Sirius has morphed into a program featuring sub-$50 interactive courses that include digital textbooks, among other components, along with interactive faculty development programs.

To access the textbooks, students download a free CaféScribe e-reader to their laptop, netbook, Mac, or Windows-based PC and then access the SIRIUS digital textbooks directly from their computer.

With the CaféScribe application, students can highlight passages, search on words in the text, take margin notes, and share notes with professors and peers. In addition, the CaféScribe Web site offers social networking tools to support collaborative learning. Students can network, collaborate, and share notes with students enrolled in their own course and those using that title at other campuses.

The Sirius course development approach teams faculty with instructional designers and multimedia specialists. The books tend to focus on introductory courses such as elementary algebra, sociology, and United States history.

"Florida State College at Jacksonville is applying the latest research on teaching, learning, and motivation in every phase of textbook and course development," said Jack Chambers, Florida State Jacksonville's COO and head of the Sirius project. "The CaféScribe platform offers students highly interactive capabilities they lack with traditional textbooks, other digital textbooks, or e-readers, making it a great foundation for further improving the learning experience."

In October 2009 the college won a $728,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education (FIPSE) to help adult learners and displaced workers complete college degrees and re-enter the workforce with updated skills and knowledge. As part of that, the Sirius project is working with 10 community colleges around the country to deliver online professional development training to faculty at these institutions. As part of the project participants will beta test the Sirius courses and help develop an additional 20 courses over the next three years.

"The digital textbook market is maturing fast," Chambers added. "Now that we see what digital textbooks can do, we are asking ourselves what we would like them to do."

He's continuing to seek other institutional partners interested in developing or beta testing Sirius courses. He can be contacted at [email protected].

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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