Digital Textbooks, Online Learning Increasingly Popular

His company allows students to buy different versions of the text if they want more ways of accessing the material. Students can pay $19.95 for a PDF file, $29.95 for a black and white print version or $59.95 for a color version, or $39.95 for an audio version.

Frank admitted the company is making a lot less money than most publishing companies, but still, he said it's ultimately a smarter way to do business.

According to Frank, four things account for the lure of online textbooks: cost, convenience, enhanced functionality and environmental sustainability.

"Having books stored and accessible in an 'anytime, anywhere' fashion is consistent with peoples' changing lifestyles," Frank said. "Content delivered online holds out great promise for greater learning."

Frank has spent more than 30 years in the textbook publishing industry, working with companies like McGraw-Hill, Pearson and Cengage Learning. He started Flat World Knowledge five months ago because he said he saw a need for online textbooks.

The company is now working with more than 400 colleges and universities to provide free online textbooks, expecting to save students nearly $3 million in textbooks this fall semester alone.

Kindle Arrives in Classrooms

In May, Amazon announced a Kindle pilot program in partnership with six universities across the country for the upcoming fall semester: Arizona State University, Princeton University, Case Western Reserve University, Reed College and the Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia.

Select classes at each school are able to try out the new device as an alternative to a regular textbook.

Robert Carraway, an associate professor of business administration at the Darden School, said he thinks the Kindle will open the doors to non-traditional and more customizable learning.

"It will make it easier for students to access their materials and therefore prepare properly for class," Carraway said. "You can read in a coffee shop or in the middle of an open field without needing to drag your laptop along."

Megan Thomas, a senior at ASU, touts the benefits of a Kindle but doesn't believe it will cause paper and ink books to go extinct.

"Being able to search for words in a Kindle is a major benefit academically, making it much easier to find specific quotes for a class paper or a term that's going to be on a test," Thomas said. "But I think no matter how digitized our society becomes, we will preserve the older texts."

New Ways to Learn

Earlier this month, the University of Maryland teamed up with Apple and iTunes U, allowing professors to post videos of their lectures online that students can download and watch.

Patricia Shields, a biology professor at the school who has been making lecture videos for her students for the past two and half years, said it's all about customized learning.

"I started to make these videos when I noticed that just lecturing about complex topics such as DNA replication wasn't helping the students really understand the topic," she said.

Shields said the traditional class lecture is still important, but coming up with new ways of helping students understand the material is key.

Teachers Sharpen Their Tech Skills

"As technology becomes less expensive and more user friendly, there will be more of these less traditional ways to help students learn," Shields said.

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