Burdensome physical textbooks find a solution online


Blot photo by Leigh Lustig

Sharyn O’Keefe’s United States History II class has access to both online and physical textbooks for convenience and extra learning activities.

Ryan Swanson

Millions of high school kids groan and protest every school day while hauling their calculus and history textbooks to and from their classes. Their complaints are justified, as cinder block bags lead to bad backs. But these books didn’t cost them a single cent, making them a luxury that broke college kids would gladly trade their backs for.

Any senior who has checked the price of college tuition may have noticed a category for the price of textbooks, which The College Board estimates is a staggering $1,168 each year. In fact, according to the Huffington Post, the increase in college textbook costs has now outpaced the also shocking increase in college tuition. Therefore, The College Board’s estimated price will likely look a lot uglier by the time this year’s underclassmen are filling out their college applications.

Taking these burdensome physical textbooks and converting them into online PDFs for easy access would indeed cut costs and lead to lower prices. Textbook companies would no longer be using scarce resources like paper and ink to make their products and, economically speaking, the costs of production would be brought down. 

Accessibility is not the only benefit of this digitization. The malleability of internet content allows professors to automatically adjust their teaching materials to every student’s unique needs, as University of Massachusetts Amherst professor Robert Feldman argues.

“I can now assign an adaptive online [textbook],” Feldman explained. “The tool continually poses questions to assess each student’s mastery of material, and then provides a unique path through the material… ensuring that students review and reinforce what they’ve learned at optimal intervals.”

Education is a complex relationship between students and teachers that has the ability to allow both parties to flourish, but this can only occur if the student can afford to be there in the first place. Cheaper, online textbooks are certainly enablers, if not encouragers, of this flourishing.