Text Book Case

20 02 2012

Text books are the bane of every student’s existence. From the 1st grade on through college and grad school, we have to lug these heavy tomes around in backpacks and briefcases (for the nerds), no doubt doing harm to our posture and spinal health. And in spite of the author’s and publisher’s best intentions, these books are always far out of date long before they ever reach our hands.

Which goes a long way toward explaining why I have not used standard text books in years. Why turn the class into a history lesson when things are happening right outside the window?

These books costs lots of money, as every college student will attest. But grammar and high schools follow a different model, with books being issued to students at the expense of the school district. Unlike college Texts (which tend to be revised every 2-3 years), lower-level books often have a shelf life much longer (like 5 years). Still, the amortized expense of these volumes is no small burden for the taxpayers. So that’s why everyone was gaga over Apple’s announcement earlier this year about iPad text books. These texts would eliminate the need to wear heavy backpacks; instead, a single solitary iPad could contain everything the student needs.

Which is why everyone was gaga recently when Apple announced text books for iPad. Unfortunately, we nice as the idea sounds, it is likely still an unfeasible solution for nearly everyone involved.

How’s that again, Mr. Technology Maven?

Simple. First of all, these things cost money. Lots of money. Starting at $500 a pop, it’s going to take a hefty tax increase and/or corporate sponsorship to give every student an iPad. Follow this up with the seemingly small price of $15 per text having to be renewed each year, and suddenly the book itself, over 5 years, costs the school $75.

Never mind all that previously mentioned hardware. If you think your current iPad is going to last 5 years, think again. Especially when you consider that kids will be using these things.

“The dog ate my iPad.” “Sorry, I dropped it in a puddle.” “My sister deleted all my texts.”

Uh-huh.

The fact is, there is a hefty price to pay for this digital convenience, and until iPads (or other tablets) are ubiquitous, this idea simply will not fly. It will ultimately take everyone owning his or her own tablet device (good luck with that), and the schools being willing to consider a digital trade-off as being a fair dollar-for-dollar exchange.

Which is another way of saying that an iPad in every backpack is likely still a long way off. Especially for those unable to purchase their own as well as those in cash-strapped school districts.

At the college level, there is a better chance of it taking wings, particularly if there is a transitional period in which students have a choice. Still, going digital is not without its problems. College students love to sell their books back to the university, but this won’t happen with ebooks. There will be the sunk costs of both the tablet and the book.

While I am all in favor of Apple’s bold initiative, I regret to say that we have a long way to go before this becomes reality. Until then, though, I will continue to make all of my materials available electronically…for free…and let my students figure out how and by which device they wish to access them.

You’re welcome.

Dr “By The Book” Gerlich


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