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Free Books: Why All My Students Buy, Read, And Keep The Textbook

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2003 Annual Conference


Nashville, Tennessee

Publication Date

June 22, 2003

Start Date

June 22, 2003

End Date

June 25, 2003



Conference Session

ASEE Multimedia Session

Page Count


Page Numbers

8.583.1 - 8.583.6

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Session 2288

Free Books; Why all my Students Buy, Read and Keep the Textbook

Hugh Jack, Associate Professor Padnos School of Engineering Grand Valley State University Grand Rapids, MI email:

1. Introduction

Books command a special reverence within the academic world, and I am not exempt from their power. In my case, I have approximately 29 cubic feet of shelf space allocated to books that I own and need regularly. At one time or another I have actually read many of them, but now 'regular' usage means a few pages are needed for reference once every few months, or years. There are another 15 cubic feet of books stored in boxes because they are only needed for irregular usage. Before the advent of the Internet, paper was the best medium for transferring information in forms such as books. At this point it still offers some tactile stimulation, but it lacks the convenience and power of an electronic form. In practical terms each book only needs a few megabytes of disk space. I could fit my entire collection of books on a few CDs or easily lose the entire collection on my hard drive. The best reason for books to be in paper form it to control how they are distributed. Given the benefits, it is inevitable that people will prefer to adopt books that are freed from paper.

Our students have grown up in an environment where most information can be found with a few well chosen mouse clicks. Many no longer (or ever did) see the library as the best place to find answers. From their perspective, most of the information they have ever 'needed' could be found on the Internet, and was free! This is illustrated by the increasing number of students who don't buy required books, or students who sell back books at the end of a course [4]. This has prompted some creative responses from publishers, such as consumable textbooks and frequently renumber- ing homework problems. But, the root of the problem is in a mismatch between the widening gap between the cost of textbooks and the economic value perceived by the students. The solution is to free the books from the financial costs.

Proceedings of the 2003 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition Copyright © 2003, American Society for Engineering Education

Jack, H. (2003, June), Free Books: Why All My Students Buy, Read, And Keep The Textbook Paper presented at 2003 Annual Conference, Nashville, Tennessee.

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