Northwestern continues to add more e-book titles

Ally Mutnick

At a digital town hall Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski revealed the Obama administration’s newest goal: electronic textbooks for every student by 2017. This is a goal the Norris Center Bookstore is also working toward for Northwestern, with about 700 of its 2000 titles available in an e-book format, according to bookstore manager Jerry Jacobson.

“When we first started there were a handful,” Jacobson said. “Then it just started to grow and grow. It just grows every single term. I don’t know when it’s going to stop or if it ever will.”

The bookstore acquired e-books four years ago, Jacobson said. The store sells login codes for certain e-books to students. These codes give students access to one of two e-book programs, Universal Digital Textbooks and Nook Study, a downloadable software produced by Barnes & Noble that students can use on any computer. Currently, e-book readers such as the Nook and the Kindle are not compatible with the e-books available at the campus bookstore, Jacobson said.

The benefit of the e-book software is that it allows teachers to write additional notes in the text and highlight or share certain paragraphs for students, Jacobson said.

Astronomy and physics professor Andy Rivers worked with the bookstore to make the electronic textbook available for his Highlights of Astronomy class. Rivers said the software allowed him to write directly in the text and show students which areas he wanted them to focus on.

“The real advantage was this idea of greater interactivity with students and great collaboration with students,” he said. “With a regular textbook, what you have in the book is what you have.”

The Obama administration had stressed digital textbooks as a more effective medium because they are more interactive and can be updated easily. Rivers said he found this to be true, especially for astronomy.

“One of my incentives was that the electronic books could be relatively up-to-date with all the new research in a very fast-moving field,” he said.

Still, students who did not elect to use the online textbooks were at a disadvantage because they could not receive notes or updates, Rivers said. He integrated the software into his 2011 summer quarter class, but has not used e-books since, mainly because of this drawback.

While Jacobson said NU sold more e-books in 2011 than any college bookstore in the region, he has seen a drop in the number of e-books sold this quarter. He attributed this to the bookstore’s increase in hardbound textbooks rentals, which are often cheaper than e-books. NU now offers two-thirds of its titles as rentals.

“If they’re buying less e-books and they’re buying more rentals then it’s all about dollars and it’s less about the convenience of the e-book,” he said.

NU professors have turned to other technology to add to students’ learning environment. The library now offers eReserves, which let students access books and documents online rather than purchasing a course packet.

History professor Kirsten Leng uses the program for her Sex and European Feminism in the 19th Century class this quarter, but she said she made the decision mainly because it was cheaper for students. Leng said most of her colleagues opt to use course packets instead.

“Some people like the idea of students bringing the actual paper document to class,” she said. “You are able to mark through things together and review things together when everyone has the text in front of them.”

NU’s Multimedia Learning Center allows teachers to apply for iPads for students to use in class.

Chinese professor Hong Jiang received iPads for the 14 students in her Elementary Chinese class. She said the iPad apps for practicing Chinese were useful in teaching students the shapes of the different characters.

Communication freshman Nicole Borden said the iPad was a productive tool for learning pronunciation in Jiang’s class.

“It’s definitely helpful for listening to the different tones and getting used to hearing Chinese more,” she said. “Because obviously when you’re home in your dorm you don’t hear your teacher talking.”

Jiang said she is waiting until the end of the quarter to decide if the iPads help improve skills, but overall she has heard positive feedback from students.

“They really like to use it,” she said. “It helps motivate them to learn.”

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