Education News – Profs, students weigh benefits of online textbooks

WINNIPEG (CUP) ? While the astronomical prices of textbooks put a strain on most students, many post-secondary institutions in the U.S. are offering textbooks online.

Using a form of the Creative Commons license, certain textbooks can be accessed through various Internet sites. This Creative Commons license allows people to put up the material found in books and edit it accordingly, as long as the author or licensor is credited.

E-textbook websites have been growing in popularity. Connexions (CNX.org) is a free system that capitalizes on this idea. A user ID and an Internet connection allow anyone to access all the information it has to offer.

It’s similar to Wikipedia in that information is edited and added to a certain topic; it differs because all the information is accompanied by a credited source.

Online textbook sources like Connexions could provide professors with an alternative to self-printed course-packs. Neil Funk-Unrau, a professor of conflict resolution at Menno Simons College in Winnipeg, Manitoba is responsible for putting together packages of reading materials for different department courses.

?It’s certainly a viable option,? Funk-Unrau said of Connexions. ?I’m taken aback by the prices students pay.?

The University of Winnipeg already offers some course material online through the library’s e-reserve. Other websites, like Coursesmart.com, charge a user fee for accessing their online textbook database. Course Smart claims to save students 50 per cent off the price of store-bought textbooks.

Yet this website is sponsored by the textbook publishers themselves, which means they still get revenue.

Gabrielle Antaya, a third-year philosophy student at the U of Winnipeg, would like to see the e-textbook option utilized at the university more often.

?If you’re tight on money, it would definitely be nice to have a less expensive version available. Usually they have a nice little website that makes end-of-chapter reviews and questions super accessible.?

Melissa Mitchell, a third-year science student, spent around $450 on textbooks for her first semester. Despite the expense, she is still hesitant about e-textbooks.

?It seems like a good idea, but I wouldn’t want to stare at my computer for hours and my Internet is fairly unreliable,? she said.

The websites might also pose a problem for in-class textbook assignments. ?It would be a challenge for teachers to use. One concern would be open-book tests,? said Funk-Unrau. ?You would have to make sure students are reading the right material.?

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