In order to make textbook material cheaper and easy to use, the Sam Houston’s Department of Geology and Geography has create the “e-book” – a less expensive online edition of a textbook – for several classes.
The first e-book, written for the Weather and Climate course, paved way for the production of the second, written for the Geological Hazards and Resources class.
“As technology has changed over the years the prices of books went way up, and as our desire to sort of do more custom stuff for students here and take advantage of our own interests,” Professor Dennis Netoff said.
Several professors from Sam Houston contributed to the creation of the e-book, including Jim Tiller, Dennis Netoff, Chris Baldwin, Brian Cooper, John Degenhardt, John Solum and Marcus Gillespie.
According to Netoff, the price of an e-book is significantly lower than a hard-back textbook. While the department makes a small profit off of the books, the e-books can be sold at little more than the price of a CD. Netoff said the savings add up quickly, since hundreds of students are saving around a hundred dollars each.
“We have all been concerned to see what we can do to reduce these costs to what we see as a more reasonable level,” Baldwin said.
The size of the books is another feature. Rather than haul around a textbook, users of an e-book only deal with a disk. Netoff said the CD format also allows for more high quality images, an important aspect of teaching a course like geography or geology.
“As opposed to a hard copy the CD has no restrictions in terms of size, and what’s particularly nice, we can put anything in color in there that we want. In hard copies of something, every color has to be run by special process and it jacks up the price of the book,” Netoff said.
He also said many of the images used in the production of the e-books are public domain images. They are not copyrighted and do not cost anything to reproduce, further reducing the cost of the books.
“We can put lots of graphics in, they’re every striking, they add to the text, and we can do it very quickly at a very reasonable cost,” Jim Tiller said
He said another convenient feature of the books is the easy editing. Hard books come out with new editions every couple years, changing information, fixing mistakes, and u-pdating graphics. With e-books, every round of published disks can be edited by the authors to reflect necessary changes.
“I would assume [it is beneficial] to have the ability to change graphics or comments or anything you want to put in there,” Tiller said.
The books have garnered national attention. Publishers have expressed interest in the concept, the US Geological Survey has taken notice, and several universities nationwide are considering adopting the e-book according to Netoff. The e-books also have scholarship benefits. For all the books published for the school, the publisher has been contributing part of the profit to an endowment for the school. The endowment is used for student scholarships.
“Our publishers happen to be a particularly generous and loyal supporter of our department and she is willing to forgo a certain portion of her profit by way of supporting our students,” Baldwin said.
“It’s nice to see that some of the profits are going to a good cause,” Netoff said.
The initial idea for the e-book is credited to Professor Jim Tiller. He suggested the idea after working with online classes and the textbook for them.
“I guess what started was several years ago I put one of my classes online. A lot of my students are not really on campus, so I got to looking around, and I wondered if there’s such thing as an e-book for this class,” Tiller said. “I scrambled around and was able to find references to one, but when I finally got the root of it, somebody had already bought the rights to it. There was a book, but it was no longer available.”
Tiller said as of right now, there are no more plans to write any other e-books. The current books will continue to be modified and used.
Netoff said the e-books were a big effort and slight gamble.
“I put well over 1,000 hours into each one of those books, when you do not have a lot of positive feedback you say ‘Geez, I wonder if we even did the right thing,’ but looking back at it after it’s done it’s sort of fun.”