National / News / October 7, 2010

Reinventing the modern textbook

Wth the invention of the Kindle and most recently with the growth of the Apple iPad’s new iTunes bookstore, books are becoming imbedded in the digital age. But now, Apple is researching ways to take this development a step further with the creation of school textbooks made exclusively for access on the iPad.

According to the New York Times, the idea of electronic textbooks has already been tested on the Amazon Kindle. With little success. Students at the seven universities that took part in Amazon’s product trial last year were all extremely dissatisfied with the Kindle as a viable academic tool.

The iPad, on the other hand, seems to be custom-built for textbook reading. According to Knox freshman Carina Tran, it has highlighting and note-taking capabilities, which have been very useful to Tran while doing her school reading. Another handy tool Tran mentioned was the ability to look up an unfamiliar word just by clicking on it. She also pointed out that when taking notes on an e-book, all the notes show up in one place, while handwritten notes in a printed textbook would be scattered all over the book.

If textbooks are made available on the iPad, Knox freshman Aby Izquierdo would be enthusiastic about the convenience electronic textbooks seem to promise. She believes that if iPad textbooks become available, buying an iPad is worth the cost. According to the New York Times, the most basic model is $499, with more expensive models ranging from $629 to $829. “Think of it as an investment. You could waste $100 or more per term [buying printed textbooks]. The iPad is as expensive as getting the book[s] [themselves].”

It is unknown how much iPad textbooks would cost, but the prospect of Apple having so much control over it is something that troubles Knox Classics professor Stephen Fineberg. He says that increased dependency on electronics is decreasing appreciation for printed text. He values the idea that a printed text can be stored like a keepsake on one’s shelf and worries that having electronic versions of books will not carry the same sentimental value.

Knox freshman Maia Brodsky is ambivalent—she believes iPad textbooks can be beneficial as long as access to the printed version is still available. “Technology can be flawed, and some people just aren’t good with technology,” she said.

As to whether or not having electronic textbooks would affect the flow of classes, Psychology professor Yuna Ferguson is uncertain. She says she is open to the idea, “if it encourages active reading,” but admits the biggest factor is cost. Like Fineberg, Ferguson is also wary of Apple potentially monopolizing the online textbook market. However, she says it does have certain advantages — it is easy to carry, and the ability to make notes in the book is convenient as well.

While the iPad may have definite advantages, Tran does not believe it will ever replace the laptop. “You can’t just make an iTouch big and call it a laptop,” she said. “It’s a luxury…it’s like an extension of your laptop, it doesn’t replace it.”

Whether or not electronic textbooks will be as much of an instantaneous hit as the iPad itself remains to be seen. Right now, it seems like the success of electronic textbooks will depend primarily on personal preference—but the future of electronic print could be much more expansive in years to come.

Allison Bader

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