E-Textbooks Improving

A new service seeks to improve electronic textbooks for college students

by Quest Staff on February 8, 2009 - 4:43pm

Jeff Lester says electronic textbooks are “absolutely the biggest problem I have faced” in working toward his graduate degree.

The 42-year-old student at the University of Dearborn-Michigan, who has ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), has had to wait as long as five weeks after the start of class to receive an electronic version of the textbook. And then he has had to struggle through copy that lacks illustrations, or which has intermingled sidebar copy with the main text.

Lester Family
Jeff Lester, shown with his family, says improvements to electronic textbooks are desperately needed in order for college students with disabilities to compete academically.

That’s why Lester is pleased to learn about a new online database system, AccessText, which may improve the distribution and quality of electronic versions of printed classroom materials for students with disabilities.

“The true issue is that disability, where you don’t have use of your limbs, already slows your ability to do tasks necessary for classes,” says Lester, who uses a power wheelchair, full-time trach ventilation and HeadMouse assistive technology to operate his computer. “The typical delay for receiving electronic versions of textbooks is more than just an inconvenience, but can actually have a severe, limiting factor on your ability to perform academically.”

Better books

The AccessText Network, being publicly tested in February, is a joint venture of the Association of American Publishers (AAP) and the University System of Georgia. Funded by donations from several large publishing firms, the network utilizes QuickBase, an online database, to enable publishers and colleges to share resources.

AAP President & CEO Patricia Schroeder said the AccessText system offers two major improvements over existing ones:

  • It improves the way electronic versions of print textbooks are delivered to campus-based disability student service offices; and
  • it streamlines the permission process for electronically scanning copies of texts when publisher files aren’t available.

Still in development

The AccessText Network currently is offered to post-secondary institutions as a free beta service. Members will not be charged for access to the network until the beta period is complete, probably this fall.

The AccessText Web site has plans to launch sections for students, faculty and disability service providers this summer, with information on obtaining and using electronic textbooks, as well as ways to improve accessibility for students with disabilities.

Students interested in receiving electronic textbooks through the network should contact the disability service provider at their schools.

For more information, visit www.AccessText.org. The program encourages students to sign up for its mailing list to receive announcements on student resources.

Lester says he hopes AccessText works as planned.

“The major benefit of the new service will be a timely delivery of required materials and a continuation of the improvement of the quality of the materials, as well as hopefully an expansion of materials available – for instance companion workbooks for the textbook.”

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