E-books Reduce Student Burden

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Thanks to a pilot program that began this fall, students seeking ways to save money on textbook costs now have free access to 44,000 e-books. An e-book is an online version of a printed book.

The e-books can be accessed with a wide range of mobile-enabled devices, and students can browse available titles online at go/ebl.

Many students burdened by high prices on printed textbooks welcome the College’s move towards free access to books.

“It is going to take a bit of time for everyone to get used to using e-books, but e-books are something that I will definitely opt for, considering the money I would get to save,” said Camila Fernandez ’15. “I would choose e-books, especially for ones that I only have to read a chapter or two out of the whole book.”

Head of Collections and Digital Initiatives Rebekah Irwin said that the e-book program will benefit students across a wide range of disciplines.

“Along with thirty other colleges and universities like Cornell, Dartmouth and the University of California Berkeley, we’re taking part in an experiment this fall semester to gain first-hand experience with e-textbooks in the classroom,” Irwin said. “About twenty [course] sections are taking part, including economic courses, psychology, biology and German.”

Irwin added that one goal of the pilot program is to determine the advantages and disadvantages of permanently adopting an e-books program, as well as to gauge student and professor responses to  using e-books in place of traditional textbooks.

Though students are able to access the e-books free of charge, there are certain costs associated with the books that students may not see, according to the College Bookstore Manager Georgia Best.

“Although some students had access to free e-books this semester, they were not free – the College paid a hefty fee to participate in this pilot program,” Best said.

“Whether the College continues to participate in the program [and] how to pay for the fee will be up for discussion after we evaluate the pilot program at the end of the semester.”

Irwin described the e-book program’s benefits as far-reaching.

“Right now we are stuck in the middle,” Irwin said.  “We are buying thousands of books and we are also buying thousands of e-books; we want to make everyone happy.”

“The thing with print books is that we buy books for other Middlebury schools in Mills College Cali. or other places and they ship it back to us if there is work to be done on the books and we ship it back to them,” Irwin said. “So it seems, if you are thinking about carbon footprint, the way we ship books back and forth to our other schools is not the best environmentally and there are other options. But with e-books, there are no boundaries when we are thinking about students who are going abroad or traveling, since they would be able to access these e-textbooks almost anywhere.”

She added that students fond of making notes, annotating and highlighting their books need not fear the digital textbooks.

“You can annotate and add notes on these e-textbooks,” Irwin said, “and faculty can highlight sections and add their own annotations to share through the e-textbook with their entire class.”

Professor of Economics William Pyle and Assistant Professor of Economics Andrea Robbett are both participating in the experiment this fall with their microeconomic theory courses.

“For me, the jury’s still out

[regarding e-books],” Pyle said.

“In part, [this is] because I still need to learn how to use the various features. But I can see it being useful to write clarifying notes next to certain textbook questions or problems and to have those notes visible to all students. I asked my class for feedback and many reported liking the highlighting and post-it notes features [of the e-book].”

Pyle discussed students who already are using the College’s new textbook options. “About a third have already opted to purchase the soft copy, three-hole punch version for $34. So some, obviously, are opting out. But even at that price, it is still a deal compared to the hardback copies.” The hardback copies of the textbook cost $197.

“No one quite knows what the solution will be yet,” said Irwin, at some point in our lives, textbooks, like personal mail and newspapers, may well move online. But that is many years off. We plan to buy both e-books and printed books for many years to come.”