Larry Walther believes textbooks of the future won't break students' backs or their budgets.
Walther, a Utah State University professor and chairman of the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business' School of Accountancy, offers his accounting "textbooks" free on his website to his students. And now, many of his texts also are available to students worldwide, through a London-based company, Bookboon, that offers free downloads that are paid for by the inclusion of advertisements every few pages.
Kenneth Kuttler, a Brigham Young University math teacher, also recently provided online texts available through www.bookboon.com.
"You don't read a math book like you read a novel," Kuttler said. "If you're interrupted by an ad, it's probably just a pleasant diversion."
Kuttler and Walther both provide texts on their personal websites, and Kuttler has a pre-calculus text available through World Center of Mathematics (www.centerofmath.org) for $10 as a PDF download.
"I think traditional textbooks have to get a lot cheaper or they're going to become extinct," Kuttler said. "There's just no justification to spend $200 on a calculus book. There's nothing wrong with people having to pay for books, but when you have to pay so much, something is wrong."
"I don't know what if any future there is for print books," he said. "If books had started as electronic and someone proposed printing them out so you could lug them around, why would you want to do that? The only advantage to print books is familiarity, but anyone who is under 25 or 30 doesn't think that way any more. And with some formats of books online, you can embed videos and do so much more to help students understand."
Both professors said Bookboon contacted them after finding their textbook material posted online. Walther's is www.principlesofaccounting.com. He offers information free to students, but asks others to pay a fee. Kuttler posts links to his work and his work-in-progress, free, at http://math.byu.edu/~klkuttle.
"It's an interesting model," Kuttler said, referring to the company's practice of offering free downloads in exchange for exposing readers to the embedded advertising. "I will be interested to see if it catches on."
Kuttler said from a writer's point of view, online books allow for fast, simple revisions.
"At least in math books, it's nearly always the case that they have errors the author didn't realize were in there," he said. "We just plain overlook things, or things are missing, or there are arguments that aren't complete. If you are in control of the material in the book and you happen to come across something like that, you can immediately change it and students get a better book."
At Ogden-Weber Tech, online learning materials from Tooling U have been used for eight years, instructor Jeff Fowler said in an interview this spring. The traditional textbooks he considered back then were outdated.
"The textbooks available were 30 to 40 years old, and technology changes fast," Fowler. "It was a big concern of mine."
Fowler said the Tooling U programs have allowed students to stay current with industry standards, which makes them much more employable in their fields.
Changes in accounting practices are slower, of course.
"There is currently an attempt to standardize the practice globally," Walther said. "The online model for textbooks allows you to adapt to change on a real-time model. I'm working on modifications to my books based on current standards."
Walther added that his students seem to learn better when the text is on his website because of interactive features he has built in.
"It has given me the ability to know my students better," he said. "I have correspondence with each student that I don't have in a large classroom setting. I can ask, 'Does anyone have a question?' in a classroom, and nobody will raise their hand. When I challenge students in an electronic setting, I know what they are understanding, and can check their progress. It's a far more robust way to ensure learning."