Authors of digital textbooks are short-circuiting the gatekeepers and saving their students money. In this extract from our e-book, Textbook Heroes: How Digital Textbooks Make Learning More Impactful, Philip Preville considers how the textbook market is changing in favor of the way modern classrooms operate.

Every professor has a textbook in them. It’s the sum of their lectures, course notes, writings and learnings on the subjects they are passionate about and teach regularly.

Until recently, however, only a precious few ever got to write them. Without the publication and distribution resources of a publisher, there was no point in starting the manuscript. The print textbook industry has long been a gatekeeper of professorial prestige and reputation: the few faculty who wrote the textbooks were considered authorities within their disciplines.

The marketplace for digital textbooks is far more open by comparison: the barriers for entry are low, the production timelines are shorter and the need for printing presses nonexistent.

And because the marketplace for digital textbooks is so open, many faculty are choosing to dive in. They are authoring their own course content, combining traditional text with audio and video and tailoring their textbooks for active learning.

A generation of students have been wondering when the tools of their university education would finally catch up with their lives. At Top Hat, the authors who have made it happen are our textbook heroes—and our new e-book, Textbook Heroes: How Digital Textbooks Make Learning More Impactfulis all about them.

Here’s one of our heroes’ stories, as told in her own words.

Textbook Hero 8: The Pocketbook Economist

Cynthia Benelli
Lecturer, Department of Economics
University of California Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara, CA

Pain point: An expensive, underused Economics textbook

“I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania, in the projects. There was lots of violence, few opportunities, no hope.

I decided to graduate from high school, which was a bold ambition in my town. I graduated and moved to California and did my BA, then a PhD at UCSB, and they offered me a job teaching.

My primary motivation for getting involved with a digital textbook project is the cost of textbooks. My favorite introductory economics textbook is the one by Greg Mankiw. I actually love the book, his words, the man himself too. But it costs close to $200 and I can’t justify this cost for students.

Introductory economics is a very textbook-dependent course. The way it has been traditionally taught is very dull and offers little value for the money students spend.

There was too much memorization, too much of a garbage-in-garbage-out model. Many students were choosing not to buy the book because professors were giving them the CliffsNotes version of the textbook chapters anyway.

We need to give students more, something that will stick in their heads.

I contributed to two digital textbooks. I wrote the chapter on money for Macroeconomics, and the chapter on labor for Microeconomics.

When I transitioned to the digital textbook in class, I turned it into an experiment. I taught six weeks of microeconomics with the digital textbook on the Top Hat platform and then four weeks with a traditional textbook, and then I asked them for their opinions. Overwhelmingly they preferred the digital format.

The cost to students for the book is between $65 and $75. I like the fact that students always have it with them. The ease of access is a nice addition to the affordable price tag.”

As told to Philip Preville

Download our free e-book now and read stories from 11 professors who built their teaching around digital, modern textbooks — from history to math and more.

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Philip Preville

Philip Preville

Philip Preville is an award-winning journalist and a former Canadian Journalism Fellow at Massey College at the University of Toronto. He’s currently a member of the Professional Advisory Council with the Department of English at Ryerson University.