Very few things frustrate post-secondary students more than spending money on textbooks that aren’t very useful, or even worse, don’t get used at all throughout a course.
Toronto start-up Symtext has a radical new take on the textbook that could alleviate some of those problems; and best of all, universities and academic publishing houses are getting on board.
Ryerson professor Peter Monkhouse was one of the first to use Symtext’s Liquid Textbook. He didn’t want to teach his course on sustainability from just one textbook, but found all the photocopying, permission obtaining and compiling to be a hassle when he made up his own course pack — and, ironically, it wasn’t very sustainable. So, as The Globe notes, he went looking for an easier way to do it, and Symtext’s Liquid Textbook was the answer:
Symtext’s creation can include content drawn from multiple sources – chapters of textbooks, research papers, articles, even video clips. The company’s service includes arranging permissions with publishers for whatever material an instructor wants to include. It’s also easy to modify the text, a plus for Mr. Monkhouse since sustainability is a rapidly changing topic.
The professor and the students can also add their own annotations, which are available for everyone in the course to see. That creates a sort of discussion forum within the electronic text itself.
Students can add questions, and teachers – or even other students – can answer them, says Kent Walker, an English instructor at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ont., who this fall began using a Liquid Textbook in an all-online course on academic writing for the social sciences.
Mr. Walker simply wanted an electronic version of the textbook he uses for the course. His goal was to save students – many of whom are not physically at Brock – the trouble of obtaining the book. With Liquid Textbook, he says, he got more than he was looking for, and in time he hopes to incorporate other materials that complement the basic text.
As a college grad who’s bought more kindling —I mean, unused textbooks — than I can count, I know students are going to appreciate the efforts of professors like these who are trying to save students a little cash by not making them buy three or four textbooks when only a few chapters in each will be used for course readings. I’m also intrigued by the pseudo-social networking applications in Liquid Textbook, which could facilitate real collaboration between students.
As The Globe article notes, schools using Liquid Textbook include Queen’s, McGill, Ryerson, Concordia, Brock among others, and Oxford University Press Canada is using the software to publish new textbooks altogether.
You can find out more about Liquid Textbook here.