Thursday, December 17, 2009

E-books: The Read of the Future

Many of us in higher ed have been utilizing e-books in our nontraditional online classrooms for years. Some institutions, University of Phoenix (UOP) specifically, have done a fantastic job at integrating technology and learning, with e-books being a logical step in the process. Why not provide students with course materials that will be available to them at the click of a mouse? It would save time and money in the long run, while at the same time stretching the use of technology in a different direction.

I recall the transition of going from hard copy books to e-books while working as a director for the South Florida campus of University of Phoenix. If I can recall correct, this was somewhere around 2002 or 2003 (don't hold me to that, though). A small campus in comparison to many of the older, established campuses in the Western part of the country, our campus director thought it would be a good idea for the department heads to split up the groups, which met four out of five evenings per week, and do personal announcements of this very important transition. Well, let me just say that the reception was not well taken.

Overall, students were not happy with the decision the university had made. Certainly understandable when, traditionally speaking, textbooks always came in hard copy format. This change would not give them an option, without additional expense on their part. There was an uproar of disgruntled students with many valid concerns and some valid complaints. As the director over the student services department, I knew that the phone calls and emails would most likely hit my desk first. And, the phone did ring and emails did arrive. But, we got through that transition and looking back, the benefits far outweighed the valid concerns and complaints.

Although I can't say that UOP was the only school introducing e-books to their student body, I'm confident it was the largest, for-profit, nontraditional educational institution doing it at the time. As the years have passed, UOP has not only transitioned all of their courses from hard copy texts to e-books, but they have created a course materials 'package' for each course accessible to students via their student website. I must admit that after teaching for a few different schools, theirs is by far the most comprehensive, well-developed package of resources for each course. And amazingly, the cost to the student is minuscule in comparison to the cost of hard copy text books and course materials at most institutions.

These days, the big issue these days is which e-book reader to choose for personal reading. E-books are now the rage and you'll find more novels, memoirs, reference books, etc. available in this format. There are several e-book readers on the market these days and I imagine that more will pop-up as we move forward and more books become available electronically.

In the article The Future of E-books presented in The Chronicle of Higher Ed a few days ago, the author discusses the devices that are available to consumers now and what to expect. I found this article interesting because I'm in an industry that has managed to gain access to textbooks in electronic format long before these devices hit the market. This seems to be the next logical step in reading; for educational and personal purposes. What are your thoughts?

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