Tradition is as important to higher education as is a well-rounded student body. The sound of a book's first break open and the smell of freshly printed paper are staples of the classroom microcosm. But lately, textbooks are experiencing a reinvention. And with just as many modernized classrooms are equipped with high-speed computers, traditional textbooks are being reconsidered in favor of electronic ones.
According to the Texas Board of Education, the state budgeted $1.8 billion for textbooks last year. Because printed books can cost as much as $60 each, even a liberal estimate may not fulfill the educational system's increasing need for books. But as more companies develop electronic alternatives to paper-based textbooks, more educational systems are considering e-books as an alternative to funding additional supplies, not to mention a means toward educating students with high-technology in mind. As a result, e-textbooks, while not in widespread use yet, are receiving a healthy dose of attention from public-funded school systems under budget crunches and curriculum reconsiderations.
Until the personal computer boom, classrooms remained virtually unchanged. Paper and chalkboards were the prime modes of communication between instructor and student and old-fashioned projects relied more on glue and elbow grease than keyboard and monitor. But since personal computers have become as much a necessity as they are luxury for today's tech-savvy teachers and students, the next question is whether electronic textbooks will be endorsed by school libraries and classrooms around the world.
"Students are early adopters," says Matt Gomez, marketing manager for DigitalOwl, a digital publishing and distribution company. "They're still not going to want to do their homework, but when textbooks are interactive, when they can play with them like Nintendo, perhaps it will make learning a more enjoyable experience."
DigitalOwl is just one company that's developing electronic alternatives to traditional publishing. The company provides a delivery platform that allows information publishers to package, license and securely manage information directly on end-users' desktops, PDA and wireless devices. For the digital textbook trials periods, electronic publishing solutions, such as DigitalOwl's KineticEdge, enable not only widespread distribution of electronic material, but also interaction between publisher and user. The effects on academic publishing would be greater interaction, additional information, online linking and tutorials for students.