Instructors explore e-book options

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By Anne Dalton

As textbook costs continue to rise, some Pima Community College instructors are using e-textbooks, a digital form of books that can be obtained online, updated easily and printed more cheaply.

Charges to students are lower, sometimes because the publisher gains revenue by placing advertisements in the books.

Having ads in textbooks has raised concerns with PCC’s Faculty Senate, the group that represents faculty on policies. Members spent part of the Feb. 1 meeting discussing the issue. 

Don Roberts, an economics instructor at East Campus, gave a PowerPoint presentation on his experience with using e-books for his classes. He said 95 percent of his students like e-books, but said faculty should consider the advertising issue.

“Is it appropriate for an educational institution at the college/university level to adopt and use an e-textbook annotated with advertisements?” he asked.

Steve Salmoni, a writing instructor at Northwest Campus, asked in reply: “Aren’t teachers supposed to provide a sacred space for students to learn uncompromised by commercial interests?”

Rick Rosen, a business instructor at the Downtown and West campuses, said traditional textbooks currently being sold in campus bookstore contain ads.

PCC Chancellor Roy Flores requested the e-textbook debate, citing three concerns:

Hidden tracking devices known as cookies could be installed in students’ computers as they use books online. “The KGB didn’t have this much technology,” Flores said.

Faculty could lose control of content, since e-textbooks can be changed quickly at an instructor’s request or publisher’s discretion.

Groups pushing ideological beliefs could inserts ads about sensitive matters such as abortion.

Ed Laube, co-founder of an e-textbook company called Free Load Press that provides online books to PCC classes, said the firm would avoid such pitfalls.

  “We are a new business,” Laube said. “The last thing we want to do is alienate faculty by putting objectionable ads in the book, or changing the contents without their agreement.”

Flores said decisions on textbook selection are up to individual faculty members. PCC’s policy on choosing textbooks is that full-time faculty members make their own choices on what books to use.

PCC student Aurora Trujillo, 18, attends a Spanish class and a nutrition class that both use a combination of traditional textbooks and online exercises. The online Spanish material is available at no extra charge, while an access code for the online nutritional exercises costs $17.

“I think it’s pretty helpful and I see where the teachers are coming from,” Trujillo said. “It’s a way to see your progress. It helps us keep track of our personal nutrition — it’s more interactive.”

Trujillo likes the combination of online exercises and hard-copy textbooks. “I wouldn’t want just a textbook or just an e-book,” she said.

During the Faculty Senate meeting, Roberts proposed  a “yes” consensus vote on the issue of ads in the textbooks, with the understanding there is and will continue to be academic review of these kinds of materials.

“The response to my presentation was generally favorable,” Roberts said. “The interest afterwards seems to have died, however.”

Faculty Senate President Eric Saphir did not call for a vote.

“The Faculty Senate doesn’t want to be on the record endorsing or rejecting a mode of textbook,” Saphir said.

Nevertheless, Saphir welcomed the discussion.

“Like other issues related to teaching, an airing was needed on the subject rather than things happening by inertia,” he said. “We need to be cognizant of what’s going on.”

Saphir doubts Faculty Senate will address the topic again anytime soon.

 “Further discussion in another semester or so after we’ve gotten more feedback such as something inappropriate happening with the ads, might happen,” he said.

Saphir, who teaches political science, said instructors in some disciplines may decide to use one textbook to make it easier on students, but all full-time faculty involved must agree voluntarily. For other courses, faculty members bring different approaches to the subject.

“I cherish the autonomy,” Saphir said.

Jenn Waugaman, a Spanish teacher at Community Campus, has used e-books for several years.

“I believe an interactive text is necessary for a foreign language class to be successful,” she said.

The textbook is available to students either online from Vista, a company specializing in language books, or in hard copy. An access fee pays for the online version for 18 months. 

“Overall, I really like the e-textbook,” Waugaman said. “It greatly enhances the online learning environment through use of multi-media resources and allows for interaction between students.”

Jim Johnson, dean of instruction at Community Campus, has discovered one problem with use of government funds for e-books. He said some agencies that provide help with disabled students’ book costs do not allow their funds to be used for anything not purchased through the college bookstore.

“The Veterans’ Administration and Vocational Rehabilitation are two,” he said. “That hurts a small percentage of the students, but is a possible problem.”

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