Going digital


Portland State should take a page out of Missouri College’s book by getting rid of all textbooks. According to NPR, Missouri College is the first higher education institution to completely discard physical textbooks and rely solely on e-textbooks.

I can already hear the objections. First, let me give some background.

I love the smell of books. I appreciate the weight in my hand. I enjoy the feel of the slick covers and rough pages. I can relate to bibliophiles who insist on reading only physical books, yet I cannot agree.

It’s the words, the pictures and actual content of books that make them magical, educational and indispensible.

But we don’t need pages, ink and glossy covers for those things. As technology once advanced from parchment scrolls to the printing press, e-books give publishers and readers more features, variety and accessibility.

Plus, there are many benefits to ditching these archaic mediums. Old versions might have just been scanned copies of physical textbooks but new e-textbooks are interactive. Students can search, bookmark pages, highlight words or passages, as well as cut and paste. Many of them include photos, videos and social networks where notes can be shared among classmates.

One apparent downside is that students would need to have a computer to do their homework, preferably a laptop that they can bring to class. But, more and more students own laptops as they become increasingly affordable. Developers of e-textbooks are making them compatible for both PCs and Macs.

Missouri College takes care of the problem by issuing all students a new laptop upon admission. But even if they didn’t, NPR reports that the average textbook costs $200 and e-textbooks cost half of that. The money saved on purchasing e-textbooks rather than physical textbooks would make it even more affordable for students to purchase a laptop. By the way, small laptops are as cheap as $250.

E-textbooks are an exciting advancement, making learning more engaging and interactive. PSU should also venture down this path, as this seems to be the road to the future of higher education.

Also, since PSU is so sustainability minded, e-textbooks would be a great opportunity to save trees. According to www.marketwire.com, tens of millions of trees are cut down each year just for printing textbooks. The ink in textbooks isn’t great for the environment either.

Talking to people one on one, I constantly hear students lamenting the death of physical books. But then, they’ll switch topics to tell you what they watched on YouTube or read on Wikipedia. The claims of preference for physical books rather than e-books seem to be more nostalgic than actually believed.

The numbers speak for themselves. Open PR reports that, “Bookshelf, the industry’s leading interactive e-book reader, continues to experience exponential growth as e-books are increasingly adopted by the higher education community. After adding 100,000 new users over the course of its first 10 years, the number of users has tripled since June, surpassing 300,000 users in January 2009. This January alone, 44,453 users downloaded the Bookshelf e-reader.”

Then, there’s also the phenomenal success of Amazon’s kindle. According to TechCrunch, the kindle is outpacing iPods in sales by 32 percent.

Libraries and bookstores are no longer just buildings that we drive or walk to, but are resources available at our fingertips. The world is moving beyond books made from trees, and educational institutions, not just select schools, need to keep up in order to offer students the best education possible.


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