July 2010

College textbooks evolving, still vital educational tool

With all the news coverage focusing on Apple’s new iPad, the Kindle and other e-readers, traditional paperbound textbooks may seem a bit of an anachronism.  However, student learners in most academic disciplines continue to rely on textbooks to support classroom lectures, exercises and hands-on labs.

Given that you can “Google” just about any topic, some students may wonder why textbooks, in any format, are still relevant. Although crowd-sourced content found on Wikipedia and other similar sites is remarkably accurate, an encyclopedia, even one as diverse as Wikipedia, is not meant to replace in-depth, well-researched examinations of specific topics.  Textbooks are the result of years of study by experts, or in many cases teams of experts, and are reviewed by editors and peers before being published.  No one Web site can begin to compete with that level of detail and knowledge.  This doesn’t mean textbooks remain the same heavy volumes many of us remember.  Today’s textbooks may have a print component, online content, or they may be customized to a faculty member’s specifications.  Textbooks are definitely evolving.

Issues primarily relating to cost, access and openness have moved states and the federal government to regulate college-level textbooks. As part of the new U.S. Higher Education Act, students can now obtain information about class materials online before they enroll in a class.  For example, at Waubonsee Community College students can access our bookstore website and search for the books they will need for each class.  The prices for both new and used books are listed.

At Waubonsee the pursuit of better and more affordable textbooks is supported at all levels of the college.  A new type of textbook, for example, was piloted in the Introduction to Business classes last year.  Offered through Flat World Knowledge, the required class textbook could be accessed for free online by students.  This was a great option for students who wanted to do their reading online.  For other types of learners, the option remained to buy a black and white version of the textbook through the college bookstore at a reduced price.  Many students in the class preferred the print version.  This innovative approach to textbooks gives students the flexibility to choose a format that fits their learning styles and their budgets. 

Typically, students who purchase e-textbooks can expect up to a 50 percent cost savings.  Students need to choose between the downloadable version or the web-based version of the specified e-textbook.  There are advantages to both selections.  Web based e-textbooks can be accessed from any computer with an Internet connection and from many Internet-enabled devices.  The downloadable version is designed to be accessible in its entirety on one computer. E-textbooks are usually subscription based and are available for a proscribed time limit. Plus, e-textbooks save paper and shipping costs.

Another effective method for reducing textbook costs is to purchase used textbooks and then resell them once the class is completed. Waubonsee has been a strong proponent of this model for years.  At the end of every semester, students typically sell many, if not all, of their textbooks back to our college bookstore.  For most titles, our bookstore buys the textbook back at nearly 50 percent of the original cost.  These are generous book buyback terms in comparison to other colleges and universities.  In addition, the savings are in turn passed along to future students who are then able to take advantage of purchasing a used versus a new textbook the next semester when they enroll in the same course.

While revolutionary changes are making textbooks more accessible, affordable and powerful, traditional textbooks remain a vital learning tool.  Waubonsee is committed to staying on the cutting edge to ensure our students have what they need to succeed in and out of the classroom. 

In fact, Waubonsee’s bookstore recently reopened in a spacious first floor location in Dickson Center on the college’s Sugar Grove Campus after a nearly three-fold expansion.  Our college bookstore continues to be a central stop for students throughout the semester for textbooks as well as academic reference materials and class supplies; computers and computer software; imprinted clothing and accessories; gifts and cards; among hundreds of other items.