To start I have to say that does not support the illegal distribution of any materials but since it is currently happening in the textbook industry I feel the need to address it as a way for students to access information.  If not for the illegality, the idea makes perfect sense; a student buys a $150 book, copies all the pages and creates a PDF and then shares it with all their friends in class.

The concept of photocopying a book is nothing new.  The internet just allows the old photocopy to be scanned and shared with more people in a faster manner.  Years ago the big problem was students using university copy machines to make the copies!  At the time, the problem was not so widespread, and as long as the University made their ten cents a page they turned a blind eye.  As long as the university can still generate $20 for a 200 page textbook they didn’t care so much.  But converting those copies into a PDF file eliminates the need to pay for photocopies.

The prohibitive cost of photocopying a textbook that is a few hundred pages also kept the practice in check.  For thinner books this will probably suit you fine because the costs are nominal.  But if you are going to just print the book off so that you can read it you may want to give it some serious consideration as the overall cost could easily be more than simply buying that book online.  And don’t forget what you are doing is illegal and could have negative consequences.

Again, we have covered this in the past so I am just going to reference some old posts covering the topic.

Are eBooks right for me?  – Part 1
Are eBooks right for me? – Part 2

by: Jeff Cohen

There is great potential in this idea and I can definitely see it picking up steam over the next year as more and more people become aware of it.  In short, using an open source education system such as MIT Open Courseware project, will allow professors to write and share curriculum with each other.  This is actually very close to the original intent of those who first created the World Wide Web.  Professors can then collect the materials into a “packet” and share it with students in their classes.  As more professors join these groups to create study materials, more of their work will find its way into the classroom.

The one thing that might hold up this idea will be the competition that is bound to start between open courseware projects.  Each school is going to want to have the “premier” set of data.  This will ultimately lead to the information being split into different systems and programs (contrary to the original intent), making it harder for professors to pull everything together that they want.  Ultimately as the open source courseware becomes perfected there will be two or three dominant systems and eventually we will have another Beta Vs VHS (or Blu Ray vs HD DVD) as different schools and companies fight to create the dominant system for consolidating the data.

The goal of this project should be to create one single repository of information that can be used and shared, as the creators of the World Wide Web intended.  It’s taken 20+ years but maybe educators are finally getting back to the basics of how to use technology to improve the learning process.

The benefit for students is that initially this program will create free data.  Eventually however I am sure that many of these programs will offer a print on demand service that allows you to get a printed copy for a price, so enjoy it while it’s free.

by: Jeff Cohen