E-books and Virtual Libraries

E-books are much smaller and lighter than standard-size books. (Photo courtesy of simplaysax on flickr)

E-books

What are e-books and why should you care? Because with the growth of distance education, many schools are trying to figure out methods to reduce the cost of maintaining classes to prevent raising tuition. By investing in e-books, the need for and cost of physical books is reduced or eliminated.

E-books, also known as electronic books or digital copies, are downloadable versions of physically published books. Students can purchase a e-book through a vendor, like Amazon, and download it immediately to a laptop, kindle, or other electronic device. E-book readers allow students to carry multiple texts on one device that weighs much less than a single book. While the e-book reader costs much more than a single book – they range from $100-$800 depending on brand – they provide access to texts without the possibility of a work going “out of print”.

While some colleges, like Ashford University, offer students the option of purchasing e-books for class, other are moving to an e-book-only format. ITT Technical Institute, for instance, recently announced that e-books would be the only text issued to students for certain classes; physical textbooks are not provided to students enrolled in certain class sections. While some students may not have a preference between an e-book or a physical book, many would at least appreciate a choice between the two. Many students, despite pursuing their education via online classes, would prefer to have a physical textbook that can be highlighted, folded, bookmarked, and, most importantly, sold. True, e-books offer many of the same features (minus the reselling), but some changes take longer to accept than others and need to be gradually introduced.

E-books can also be used as assistive technology devices for students needing extra attention throughout their education. Font can be easily enlarged for students with visual impairments and text-to-speech software can be used to assist students with dyslexia, visual or hearing impairments, and physical disabilities. In addition, vocabulary can be easily researched should a word come up in reading that is not familiar to the reader.

Virtual Library

Like e-books, virtual libraries offer students access to texts, articles, journals, and newspapers without having to step foot into a physical library. Available twenty-four hours a day and accessible through a student portal, virtual libraries are helpful in distance education as they allow a student to research scholarly sources not always available in public libraries.

Virtual libraries are less expensive for institutions to maintain as texts can never be lost or stolen. For students, a needed book or article is always available because more than one person can view it at the same time: no more hold shelves, and no more out of print texts. While the presence of virtual libraries has increased over the years, they will not be replacing physical libraries anytime soon. Public libraries offer additional resources not always found in the virtual setting: classes, conferences, area-specific information, etc..

Ashley Benson is a distance education professional with five years of experience in the for-profit sector. She has worked coast-to-coast within the United States as an academic advisor, an adjunct teaching assistant and, most recently, a campus Registrar. Through formal education and industry experience, Ashley practices staying informed on the current events and changes within higher education and the students involved.

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