Friday, January 22, 2010

Impress Your Professor: Bookbinding 101

How do you treat your textbooks? Penciled notes in the margins, easily erased? Dog-eared pages, highlighting, and inkblotted underlining? Crumpled corners from daily transport to campus or a pristine cover (likely from lack of use)?

Or do you download it? PDF it? eRead it? Could you if you wanted to?

The state of California has given its colleges and universities until 2020 to make their textbooks available electronically "to the extent practicable." Some of the rationalization given is that it will put more technology in the classroom and teach students valuable technological skills.

This is, of course, doable for bloated freshman and 100-level textbooks constantly in publication, but what about smaller texts with smaller print runs for upper level and graduate courses? What if the book isn't even in print anymore?

This is reasoning behind the "extent practicable" clause, which has led some to question the usefulness of such a law that doesn't seem to mandate anything. Still others question the idea that textbook vendors will encourage or require students to rent their textbooks, not buy them. Again, this may be fine for required courses outside a student's major, but the theory behind a text is that it should serve as a reference throughout a student's career. Many will want to keep their texts, and some observe that students still buy hard copies more often than electronic when given the choice.

I guess they like to highlight!

In my experience, professors have already been assigning electronic texts. Prior graduate courses required downloading digitized primary source texts that were several hundred years old and several hundred pages long from digital libraries. A great use of technology, but I spent as long printing and assembling my "book" as I did reading it.

Will such laws give students the technological skills promised, or will it just give them a lesson in printing and bookmaking?

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