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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Professors, students tout benefits of turning to e-books by Michael Hartwell

"It's been 1,700 years since scholars in China's Han Dynasty popularized writing on paper. Today that ancient technology finally has a challenger with electronic books. But are schools ready to make the switch?" summarizes Michael Hartwell 

Photo: Sentinel and Enterprise

This month as Fitchburg State University students search the shelves of the campus bookstore for their textbooks they are occasionally greeted with little tear-off sheets for a digital copy of the book. Students can bring the sheet to the register and instantly have a book on an e-reader, a laptop or even a smartphone.

The price differences can be dramatic. A brand-new copy of the textbook assigned for Calculus II sells for $248.50. The used copies cost $186.50 but come in a limited quantity. An e-book rental costs $85.99 but is good for only 180 days.
 Rala Diakite, humanities department chairwoman at Fitchburg State University, said students have a lot to gain from using e-books.  "I think we're going to go further and further towards the e-book. There are so many advantages and so few disadvantages," she said. "You have to have an adventurous spirit, but once they get in there students really enjoy it," she said.

E-books can be delivered instantly with no shipping costs, and the bookstore never runs out of copies. An entire library fits on a single device, and passages can be read aloud if needed. The book can be scanned for a specific word, and definitions can be accessed at any time.

From her own experience as an instructor Diakite has seen language classes greatly enhanced from e-books that can provide multi-media support such as pronunciations from embedded sound files or video clips.

Donna Sorila, mathematics curriculum director for the Fitchburg Public Schools, said electronic books will improve student access to learning materials. "We know backpacks are issues for high schools," she said. "Students complain that they're carrying around all these heavy books." Sorila said students of the future will always have access to their classroom materials, even if they're traveling or out sick.  "As educators we really try to match the students' instruction level to their reading level," said Sorila. She said e-books can give students access to a wider variety of books and cater to more learning styles than is possible with paper books.
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Follow Michael Hartwell at and @sehartwell on Twitter.

Source: Sentinel and Enterprise