‘Sex vs. Textbooks’ survey doesn’t jibe with student preferences

Textbooks can weigh more than 20 pounds.

One in four college students said in a recent survey that they’d give up sex for a year if it meant never again having to carry textbooks around campus, but majorities of students in other opinion polls show a reluctance to give up on traditional texts and switch entirely to electronic books.

Kno Inc., a California-based educational software company, released a survey July 27 that has grabbed the attention of educators and students alike—and not so much because the survey shows that lugging heavy books from the dorm to the lecture hall and back isn’t fun, but because of what, exactly, young adults would sacrifice to rid their lives of their 800-page biology text.

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Seven in 10 college student respondents said they want digital textbooks options, whether through a popular computer tablet like the Apple iPad or eBooks on a laptop.

Twenty-five percent of students carry more than 20 pounds of school-related materials—books, notebooks, organizational systems—every day on campus, according to the Kno survey.

There’s also the issue of bringing the wrong books to class—46 percent of respondents said this has happened to them—or losing the text altogether. Two in 10 students said they had misplaced their books sometime during their college career.

But educators and activists who keep a close eye on developments in higher education’s textbook policies said the sky-high demand for eBooks and web-based textbooks material is rarely, if ever, reflected in other national surveys on the issue.

Surveys and polls conducted by the Student Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) have consistently shown that three in four college students still prefer traditional textbooks. The same surveys have made it clear that students want more textbook options, including eBooks and open-source books that could be sold online or on campus for little or no cost.

“It’s pretty clear that one option isn’t right for everybody,” said Nicole Allen, a Student PIRG spokeswoman who tracks national textbook preferences and policies. “The larger point is that students want options. … I think the [Kno] survey definitely dramatizes that situation.”

Asked whether college students would follow through with the pledge to abstain from sex for an entire year in order to avoid lugging around textbooks, Allen said, “If actually confronted with those choices, students might not want to go that far just to not carry textbooks around.”

One in 10 college students said in a fall 2010 survey that they have bought an electronic book in the past three months, and 56 percent of those who had purchased an eBook said it was for educational purposes, according to a study released last month by the National Association of College Stores (NACS) OnCampus Research Division.

Only two in 10 read the eBook on an eReader device, such as the Apple iPad or Barnes & Noble Nook. The same number read the eBook on their mobile device, which included BlackBerries and iPhones. Eight percent said they owned an eReader device.

The National Association of College Stores (NACS), a nonprofit trade organization representing 3,000 campus retailers, has also found that college students—despite their tech savvy—aren’t yet committed to the digital textbook transition.

Seventy-four percent of students interviewed by NACS said they preferred traditional books to the digital version.

The NACS survey, released in May 2010, also found that more than half of college students surveyed on 19 campuses said they “were unsure about purchasing digital textbooks or would not consider buying them even if they were available.”

“It seems that the death of the printed book, at least on campus, has been greatly exaggerated, and that dedicated eReaders have a way to go before they catch on with this demographic,” said Elizabeth Riddle, a NACS OnCampus Research manager.

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