Cedarville Professor Publishes E-textbook

by Public Relations

Sometimes you have to blaze your own e-trail. J. Wesley Baker, Ph.D., distinguished professor of communications, published his own e-book this past summer. In Baker’s Media Law course, students can now use iPads, Kindles and various other devices to access the content they need.

Baker decided to publish his own textbook when he realized there were no textbooks that completely covered the material he wanted to teach. At the time, Baker felt he was practically writing a textbook to fill in the information that the books were not covering. “Why are the students paying $100 for a textbook when we’re reading maybe eight chapters out of the book and then I have to give all the other stuff that’s not covered in the book?” he said.

Baker first published his own textbook and sold it in the University bookstore, which brought the price down to $40 per book. Soon students asked for the textbook in electronic format. Baker initially had reservations about distributing the text in e-book format.

Baker encourages his students to highlight and write notes in the margins of their law book to engage with the material. “I thought, ‘If it’s available electronically, will they just read it on their laptop?’ Then I think their tendency is just to scan through it and not engage it.”

Baker began to experiment with note taking for e-books when he received an iPad. He determined that the features in the applications were advanced enough that students could interact with their e-text in much the same way they could with a physical, printed copy.

“I decided at the beginning of the summer to take the leap and try doing it as an electronic publication for the fall term,” he said. “I make my reader available in units as a PDF (portable document format) and then encourage the students to use the various tools that are available to interact with the text.”

Baker also started to experiment with true e-books, published either through Amazon’s Kindle store or Apple’s iBooks application. While making a dedicated e-book is time consuming, the end result is a well-formatted book that looks like anything published through one of the traditional publishers.

Still, some obstacles exist to the adoption of e-books in academia.

Baker observed that many students read e-books as they do web pages. “I found that the students would tend to just skim through. I think that’s a serious concern. If students are going to move to electronic forms they have to be willing to find ways to engage with the reading and not just skim through the text.”

The price of e-books is one prohibitive factor, according to Baker. Many e-books cost the same as their physical counterparts. Because e-books do away with the all-important (at least to the student) used book market, e-book prices will have to come down in order for students to make the switch.

Baker listed other factors such as observability (the ability for students and professors to see others using the product), trialability (the ability to try e-books without considerable investment) and portability (the ability to carry an entire library on one small device) that will be important for e-books to receive critical mass adoption.

Baker sees e-books as the medium of the future: “The publishers are still struggling in trying to find a way to make this happen,” Baker said. “Eventually all the books will be available in some kind of electronic form. They just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.”

Cedarville University attracts 3,300 undergraduate, graduate and online students to more than 100 areas of study. Cedarville is a Christ-centered learning community recognized nationally for rigorous academic programs, strong graduation and retention rates, accredited professional and health science offerings and leading student satisfaction ratings. Visit the University online at www.cedarville.edu.