Technology Slows Demand For Textbooks

By: Elizabeth Donatelli
By: Elizabeth Donatelli

February 16, 2006

Textbook prices are soaring and putting holes in some students' pockets but the General Assembly is looking tat a bill that would lower the costs. They may lower the price of textbooks, however new technology may actually save students people more money than the bill.

"I actually still do recommend a textbook for some of my classes not for the Galloway and Einstein, but it's becoming less and less necessary," said Michael Fowler, UVa professor of physics.

Instead this physics professor posts lecture notes online. This is something he's been doing since 1995.

"I had actual students coming up and telling me that they had no intention of using the web--it was a rather odd technical construct that they felt was irrelevant to their lives, but that was 1995," said Fowler.

Now people all around the world are downloading his notes, especially his students that need to go back over those complicated equations.

"It enables you to go back and look at things if you don't understand them quite clearly and clarify things," said Temple Lee, a physics minor at UVa.

There is also a downside. Some teachers are seeing a decline in attendance. Fowler, however, isn't one of them because he again turns to technology. All of his students have clickers, similar to TV remotes. When he posts a multiple question on the screen everyone in the class must answer. This way he can see if they are grasping the concept and get a role call immediately--which has helped attendance.

"Previously it was maybe 75 or 80 percent. I would say it's now 90 or 95 percent, I think it's brought in a few more," said Fowler.

"You're less likely to zone out because that is a portion of your grade. I mean it is only 4 percent, but still that 4 percent can make a difference," said Lee

Textbooks aren't extinct yet. It takes years to get a full comprehensive set of notes online and some students say they just don't want to stare at a computer screen all day.

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