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College Usually Means Heavy, Expensive Textbooks, But Doesn’t Have To

Beginning every semester, a fresh wave of the same mumblings and complaints are overheard in all locations, from every classroom, sometimes from both students and professors: textbooks are too expensive. We’re not going to suggest that faculty give up books – well, we are – but we’re not calling for the dismissal of readings, workbook activities or any other book-centric learning. Adopting a fleet of Kindles for students, though, might work.

Although it may not be the ideal, this type of electronic reading has the potential to save students hundreds of dollars per year in avoiding hard copies and relieve general aggravation and frustration associated with finding, ordering, purchasing and returning books.

It doesn’t have to be a Kindle exactly – just a device that is suited for electronic reading without becoming a nuisance or straining the eyes. The $299 or $499 purchase, bought by students individually or through the school, would be a one-time fee instead of a new stack of books priced between $300 and $500 each semester. Students would still have to buy books, but save a huge fraction because Kindle versions are a reputed one-third of the cost of the print editions. We’d even go so far as to say that a universal pricing system could be established due to the decentralized nature of purchasing – all students could but the e-books from, eliminating the inflated pricing of bookstores.

As for making the most out of Kindle’s functionality, students could still “dog ear” pages, makes notes in the margins, highlight words or sentences, and even better, use the “find function” or CTRL+F. The technological advantages are not endless, and will certainly not satisfy the reader who is looking to curl up with a good book – a piece of plastic wirelessly connected to the outer world is not going to provide the fantastic relief and escape the regular books do. But, Kindles or the Kindle application for iPhone or iPod Touch are going to provide what books can, but better. The Kindle even uses e-ink to imitate a real book without the pains of a computer monitor-like glow.

It wouldn’t be so much of an abandoning of books as it would be a way to supplement them and allow for greater classroom opportunity, or rather, out of the classroom opportunity. The direction that Elihu Burritt Library is heading in, with their subscriptions to online databases or when students preserve valuable research time by using Google Books, is the right one.

Other schools have even taken this e-book phenomenon a step further. Cushing Academy, a preparatory school in Ashburnham, Mass. has gotten rid of all of its books, replacing them with Kindles, laptop stations, flat screen TVs to create a $500,000 “learning center.” It will be a virtual library that will give students access to millions of books, instead of as many the physical walls of brick and mortar can hold.

The setbacks may be huge and money spent may not be initially worth it. The speed at which “getting everyone on the same page” may be excruciatingly slow. But it is a real, albeit non traditional approach to an even more real problem. Giving students new ways to learn, or just providing a simpler way to access materials they already need will be beyond worth it in the long run.