If you ask any college student how they feel about textbooks, he or she is likely to groan. A constant annoyance for most students, largely because of their hugely inflated prices, textbooks have been under a great deal of scrutiny in the media lately. A recent survey of college students conducted by the Student PIRGs found that 7 in 10 college students have passed on buying a textbook for financial reasons. When the prohibitive cost of crucial supplies is directly keeping students from learning, there is a problem. And many are starting to think that traditional textbooks' time as paradigmatic features of the institutional learning experience is almost up.
Luckily, and right on time, technology has swooped in with a highly desirable alternative. Digital textbooks, largely dismissed as a novelty only a handful of years ago, are roaring to the forefront of discourse on education, coinciding with the staggering ascent of Apple's iPad. 53% cheaper, on average, than new textbooks, e-textbooks don't just offer a price advantage; the new range of student experiences opened up by a digital textbook is simply enormous. Imagine charts and diagrams that come alive on the page - or the screen, as it were - and offer fully interactive options for exploration. Every illustration in a biology textbook can now be a video, of a tiger bounding through the jungle or an eagle swooping down upon its prey. All textbooks' associations with being dull and boring are dashed instantly. And this isn't the future; this is right now.
Of course, though the possibilities exist in the present, it's going to take some time before digital textbooks fully penetrate mainstream education. Other countries have already begun their promotion through legislation; South Korea, for instance, invested $2 billion last year to fully convert all of the country's textbooks to digital by 2015. An equally bold bill is being advocated in Florida right now to do much the same thing. But it is going to take large national measures before we can envision students walking around college campuses with nothing more than an iPad in their backpacks. Still, the students have spoken: the current model of textbooks is no longer meeting their needs. And when an industry fails to meet the needs of its consumers, that industry is forced to change.