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An E-Textbook Program Aims to Benefit Students and Professors

The University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh’s College of Business is creating a new type of e-textbook that will give professors more control of their content while also saving students hundreds of dollars in the process.

The program, a result of a nearly $300,000 grant from U.S. Department of Education’s Fund for the Improvement of Postsecondary Education, will commission professors to create texts personalized for specific classes and put them in a digital format that will bring textbook prices down from their average cost of $100 to a much more moderate $15.

While the idea of money-saving digital textbooks is not new, M. Ryan Haley, an associate professor of economics at the university, sees this program as an opportunity to alter just how these textbooks are created and utilized. Using a “core concepts” paradigm, Mr. Haley will write 80 percent of the first e-textbook in the program—a statistics book—leaving room for each professor to customize the book with his or her own appendices.

“Professors always have their own style of teaching, even if the general material is the same,” Mr. Haley said in an interview with The Chronicle of Higher Education. “So it doesn’t make sense for everyone to have the same exact texts. Some professors would be unsatisfied with the materials; some would be teaching the books in a goofy order, it would backfire.”

Mr. Haley also says that professors from other departments—departments that generally share students with statistics—will also provide content, allowing for more interdisciplinary learning and better “continuity” as students go from one subject to another.

The vice president of the student association, Alex Abendschein, said this new model of interconnected learning would be a great boon for students.

“It’s nice to know how content you learn in one class will come back to you in another,” Mr. Abendschein said to The Chronicle. “It really helps the material hit home.”

As for quality control, Mr. Haley said the standards would “compare just fine” to traditional textbooks. The process includes both internal and external review of all material, by professors and students alike.

Mr. Haley said he hoped to have the first book ready for use by the fall of 2010.

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