Say Goodbye to Text Books

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The iPod arguably revolutionized how people stored and listened to music, will Apple’s new tablet device change classrooms forever? At least one person thinks the tablet may cause students and schools to abandon traditional text books.

Frank Lyman, of Coursesmart, a digital publishing venture of five textbook companies, thinks the future is in tablets.

“The key is that with multifunction devices, you can do more than just read the textbook. You can interact with the content,” he said. “It is all about having your textbooks integrated with other tools and resources that you use for learning.”

I think law students would love digital tablets as textbook replacements. For one, students would not have to lug around heavy books all day. Students could both read and take notes on a tablet device, rather than bring books and a laptop or notepad to class.

Professors, on the other hand, might not be keen on the idea. As noted in this article, many professors ban laptops in the classroom. A digital tablet will create the same opportunities for distraction as a laptop.

(image: arthus.erea)

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  • Whenever I see those commercials for these devices I just think no one is ever going to want to read a book from a small screen but now it’s been put in this context I can see this concept being a good idea. At my University we can hire up to 16 books at a time and is quite difficult. I think if there was a way of renting these sources I would invest in one.

  • Randall Ryder

    When I was in law school, I liked reading cases on my computer screen, but I did get frustrated that I could not take notes.

    If they can make an easy way to take digital notes, I think tablets are a great idea.

  • One of the largest problems that needs to be overcome with these tablets is the copyright and cost issues.

    Cost: When your looking at buying a book you can generally compare the price between hardcover and soft cover. You take into account the cost of the paper, the ink, and the cover. When you switch to an audio book, the price generally increases, but in that case your also paying for the time of the voice actor, and the “convenience” of having it read to you. But with books for a tablet, reason would suggest that the cost should come down. I highly doubt this will be the case.

    Copyright issues: I will be the first to admit that I am not a copyright attorney, and these issues rarely come up in criminal defense. However, there were reported cases where books were removed from tablets (Amazon recently did this) and the notes the individuals had on their tablets were lost, what right and recourse did the student have in this case? “I’m sorry Amazon ate my homework.” With a text book you can legally give it to a friend the next semester when they sign up for the class – good luck pulling this off with a tablet book.

  • Randall Ryder

    In terms of cost, I would guess it will be the same, perhaps cheaper, because there are no physical costs.

    For the copyright issue, I never had a law school class where you had to turn in homework. As far as losing notes, isn’t that the same risk students face with laptops?

    Passing on books is great if you can do it. I was never able to take advantage of that because professors love to use the newest edition. Not to mention, it can get annoying disregarding the previous owner’s underlining.

  • John Allison

    Randall,

    I found books in law school rather superfluous to the learning process, but I’m not everyone.

    Even if a professor wanted the most updated version, the older version, now practically worthless, would be fairly equivalent to the new version for pennies on the dollar. For the one or two cases the author added, well, I doubt it would have affected ones grade much, if at all.

    Enter the tablet. The old, “obsolete”, text books will be unavailable for students, the used market will collapse due to lack of supply, and the publishers will make more money for texts that don’t add much to the combination publicly available cases and professor wisdom.

    Looks like a waste of time and money to me.

  • Randall Ryder

    @ John – I agree that paying for a new book for 2 new cases stinks. But many times the publishers reorganize the materials to make it difficult for students to use the old text.

    I’m intrigued by your idea of not buying the book and solely relying on public access to read cases combined with the prof’s wisdom. But I don’t think many students would feel comfortable taking that approach.

  • Given that all law students get free, unlimited access to Westlaw and Lexis, it seems like the Professors should “make their own textbooks” by giving out citations to cases and then telling people to read them. If students want to read everything on-line, great. If they want to print the cases out and read them on paper, then they could do that too.

    Of course, I would think professors might be averse to no textbooks (whether paper or electronic) since it would cut into a revenue stream for them. Some profs make a lot of money on textbook sales.

  • Randy J Ryder

    I have written four college textbooks with major publishers. About eight years ago I had a contract offer to write a new textbook and the publisher flew into town to discuss the book and how it could be marketed. My position was that the book, which was about the use of the Internet in classrooms, could only be successful if it were sold as a download via the Internet. My argument focused on the ability to easily update the text, make those updates free to registered users, and reduce the production time by about five months. The publisher thought I was misguided and refused to consider what he saw as too great a leap for the publishing industry.
    Now, with the introduction of the iPad, all of that is about to change. I see this as a win for students who hopefully will no longer have to pay these outrageous prices for textbooks. And for professors who inform students not to bring computers to class? I would ask who is the consumer.