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April 7, 2009
Northwest Missouri State University continues to attract national media attention with an initiative to create a comprehensive learning environment -- including e-texts -- in a way that could largely replace printed textbooks over the next several years.
Recent coverage includes a news feature by noted science writer Declan Butler in the April edition of "Nature" magazine and a broadcast appearance by President Dean L. Hubbard on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, a program originating on National Public Radio news/talk powerhouse WAMU in Washington, D.C.
In addition, following up on a brief article in January by David Shieh for "The Chronicle of Higher Education," Jeffrey R. Young, a senior writer on technology for the "The Chronicle," was on campus this month for extensive interviews with students, faculty, administrators and publishers in preparation for a longer piece about Northwest's e-text initiative. Founded in 1966, "The Chronicle" is considered by many to be the major news source dedicated to academia in the United States.
W hile visiting Northwest, Young spoke with representatives from McGraw-Hill, the publisher that is providing the University with much of its e-text content, and VitalSource, an e-book software developer whose technology allows students to manage electronic libraries, search text, create and share highlighted passages and notes, and customize page views.
The VitalSource platform is used to view e-texts on laptop computers, which are issued to all full-time Northwest students. When the pilot program began last fall, the University provided a control group of students and faculty with the Sony Reader, a portable e-reader about the size of a small paperback book. However, subsequent surveys indicated that most students preferred the search features and interactivity possible with a laptop.
Data collected by Northwest also indicates that while a significant number of students say they still prefer printed books, three-quarters of the students participating in the University's pilot program are satisfied with the e-text material and technology.
Students express even broader approval of e-texts when asked about cost. Even though Northwest undergraduates rent basic textbooks -- which often retail for around $200 -- from the University for an affordable per-credit-hour fee, moving to e-texts is ultimately expected to create savings for both students and the institution.
While Young obviously could not comment on the specifics of his forthcoming report for "The Chronicle," he did say that the e-text program at Northwest is being closely watched by other colleges and universities, and that the new technology will almost certainly bring profound changes to the textbook publishing industry.
"It seems to me that the newspaper and the textbook industry are similar in a way, because the old model just isn't going to fly, probably, and it might be kind of a painful transition to the next thing," he said.
"But it sounds like, from all I'm gathering for the story, from talking to the textbook publishers and the students and the professors, that people are very concerned about the cost of textbooks, and there is so much concern that it's sort of bubbling to the surface as a big national issue. And now there are alternatives, and people are trying to figure something else out."
Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager
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Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468