NORMAN — If University of Oklahoma student Mandi Gatlin had enrolled in Introduction to Sociology last year, she could have expected to pay between $50 and $100 for the course's textbook.
But because she enrolled in the class last semester, Gatlin got her book for free.
Gatlin, 18, was one of about 700 students who used a new kind of free electronic textbook in the class last semester.
The book, which was published online as a part of a Rice University program, is one of a handful of titles the program offers. But developers say they expect to see it expand over the next few years.
Students could access the textbook using several different devices, including downloading a PDF version to phones or e-readers or reading a web-based version on a laptop. Students also had the option of printing out the portions of the book they needed and using them like a physical textbook.
“It's worked great,” Gatlin said. “It's really convenient.”
This semester wasn't the first time Gatlin had used an e-textbook. But in the past, Gatlin, of Tulsa, had to buy the physical textbook to get access to the electronic version.
Having access to the e-textbook was a bit more convenient, she said, but requiring students to buy a physical copy eliminated any cost savings they might have hoped to see.
Research shows Gatlin's experience with e-textbooks isn't uncommon. A study conducted over four semesters at Florida's Daytona State College showed students who enrolled in a pilot project that used commercial e-textbooks paid nearly as much as they would have paid for physical textbooks.
According to the study, which was released last year, students who used e-textbooks in many of the college's courses saved only $1 over students who bought the physical copies.
Kelly Damphousse, Gatlin's professor in the course, said he began using the free e-book after being frustrated at the high cost of the textbooks he had been asking students to buy. Most sociology books cover the same material, he said, but the price tends to be from $60 to $150 even for a paperback book with no photos.
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