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College students e-cautious so far about e-books [Connecticut Post, Bridgeport]
[February 20, 2010]

College students e-cautious so far about e-books [Connecticut Post, Bridgeport]

(Connecticut Post (Bridgeport) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Feb. 20--Mary Ellen O'Sullivan's students had a choice.

The class at Housatonic Community College in Bridgeport could buy a $29 access code to give them use of an online textbook to meet the requirements of their Psych 101 class or, for $59.20, they could buy the access code plus a loose-leaf binder containing chapters of the sixth edition of Psychology Core Concepts, the book they would use during the semester long course.

But when O'Sullivan asked her students during the second week of class how many had purchased just the access to the digital version of the text, not one hand was raised.

It was the same response she got from students at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven, where she teaches two courses, Psychology 101 and Infant and Child Psychology.

'What if the Internet crashes? As much as Kindles and iPad and online versions of printed text are trying to wrestle their way into college classrooms as the more convenient and economical alternative to high-priced college texts, students don't appear ready to bite.

"What if the Internet crashes?" said Jamie Parana, 23, a freshman from Derby.

"What if I leave my book at home? I think there are reasons to have both." In a freshman economics class 90 minutes away at the University of Connecticut's main campus at Storrs, there are 141 students who all had the option to buy just the $55 online version of their economics text or both the online text and the customized paper edition of the test for $91.75.

When Richard Langlois, the professor who teaches the class, asked who went for the cheaper online option only, 40 raised their hand.

He's been told about one-third of students who initially buy the online text only later go back and upgrade to a paper version as well.

Page for page, the online text and paper text are the same.

Students, it seems, are looking for the best of both worlds. Few see the logic, yet anyway, of adding a Kindle, iPad or some other kind of electronic text-reading device to a book bag already crammed with a laptop, smart phone and iPod.

Eric Weil, a managing partner with Student Monitor, a group that tracks everything about college students, found that only 2 percent of full-time undergrads purchased electronic textbooks last fall.

Digital texts account for 6 percent of a student's textbook budget. With just under 7 million full-time undergrads nationwide, about 150,000 have warmed up to e-books.

"We expect that to increase dramatically" as the number of titles available increase and gadgets like Apple's new iPad become widely available, said Weil.

Waiting for the iPad Introduced last month, iPads will hit the market in late March.

Still, with technology changing so fast, some worry today's e-reader could become the eight-track tape player or video cassette recorder of tomorrow.

Brinley Franklin, UConn's vice provost for university libraries, said the technology improves with each new reading device.

According to him, students are waiting for the price to come down, while textbook publishers are waiting for assurances that their online material won't go the way of online music, free to anyone who wants to share or copy it.

"To a certain extent, I don't think textbook publishers are ready to jump in with both feet until they figure out how to control the economics of it," Franklin said.

Beyond professors like O'Sullivan and Langlois, who incorporate an online text into their instruction, there are many more opportunities for students to buy a digital version of whatever textbook is assigned.

Frank Lyman, executive vice president of CourseSmart, a company established by the textbook industry to create digital copies of textbooks, said there are now 9,200 titles available, representing the most popular textbooks on the market.

"I couldn't say that two years ago. That's a big change," said Lyman.

Still, he called the market an inch thick and a mile wide because up until a year ago, a student who had a good experience with a digital text often couldn't find a digital version of the next book they needed.

Now, many more digital texts are available to anyone with a laptop.

The purchaser buys access to the book for a specific length of time.

In essence, the student is buying a subscription that is one to three semesters in length.

What devices like an iPad will do, said Lyman, is capture the imagination of students who want to leave the laptop in their room."If they can save enough buying digital texts it will justify the cost of the iPad," he said.

The price for an iPad will start at $499. On average, digital texts are half the price of the printed versions.

Cost savings With digital texts, students get the latest edition available every time. What they lose is the ability to get a used edition someone has already gone to the trouble of highlighting. They also can't resell it.

UConn's Langlois said the online text not only saves students money, but the college saves as well.

By using an online text that offers the feature of completing homework assignments and taking tests online, Langlois has an electronic substitute for a teaching assistant.

That is welcome savings for the school, given budget cuts and fewer grad students who used to fill the teaching assistant role.

Most college libraries have access to thousands of digital books -- not just textbooks.

Fairfield University's library offers more than 100,000 e-books. UConn's library does too and also recently purchased five Kindles, said Franklin.

The devices are checked out all the time.

At Housatonic, O'Sullivan said new technology eventually wins over most students. For every student who complains on a course evaluation about studying online, there are others, she said, who like the online flash card feature or ability to see simulations online.

In her Infant and Child course at Southern, students take charge of and raise a virtual child on line.

As she leads students through the website where they file homework assignments, check for announcements and access research material, O'Sullivan shows them how to highlight the text, bookmark pages and click on words to look up meanings.

No more consulting the glossary in back of book.

Joey Diaz, a freshman from Bridgeport, said he likes digital readers, but will stick with both for now.

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Copyright (c) 2010, Connecticut Post, Bridgeport Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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