By Ben Adelman
---- — SALEM — Last week, Bharti Parris, an incoming freshman at Salem State University, tried out the new high-tech, interactive textbooks at the campus bookstore.
Standing at the iPad display, she deftly scrolled through the pages of a biology book, zoomed in on a graphic of the human heart (”that’s cool,” she said), and even clicked on the self-quiz.
“I’ve definitely used something like this in high school,” said Parris, 19, a Manchester Essex High School graduate.
That familiarity is one reason Follett Higher Education Group, the company that manages the bookstore, started offering Inkling interactive textbooks this year, a textbook platform available for iPad, iPhone, iPod touch and through any web browser.
“(Students) are coming in with a completely different skill set and completely different expectations of how they want to learn,” said bookstore manager Elisabeth Phinney. “We’re catching up to them, so this is really putting them in their own element.”
For those who grew up in the world of paper textbooks, the idea of an electronic, “interactive” textbook might seem foreign. Imagine a textbook where you can not only turn pages and read graphics and sidebars, you can zoom in on graphics, watch videos and follow links to additional information. In one Inkling book at SSU, users can listen to a clear, authoritative female voice explaining a complex concept differently from the way it’s explained in the text — providing an additional way for students to grasp the material. An online demonstration video shows a user manipulating 3-D images of a heart and a double helix with the swipe of a finger.
In this age of social media, no electronic thingamabob would be complete without the ability to share it with friends. Inkling does that, too: users can highlight a passage, type notes, and comment to peers and professors.
Inkling became available at Follett bookstores this summer, thanks to a deal struck by the two companies.
The program is still in its infancy. Salem State has just 13 titles, and Endicott has four. Inkling works with textbook publishers, including Pearson and McGraw-Hill, to turn their content into electronic books.
“Follett currently offers hundreds of Inkling titles to more than 5 million students across the country,” Elio DiStaola, director of campus and public relations at Follett, said in a statement. “We can’t say for sure how many titles will be offered moving forward, but we’re excited to continue our partnership with Inkling and to provide students with even more access to digital and interactive textbooks than ever before.”
Inkling is just the latest electronic textbook available at Follett, which manages more than 900 college bookstores in the U.S. and Canada, including those at Gordon College in Wenham and Endicott College in Beverly. The college bookstores also offer a platform called CafeScribe, which has more than 35,000 titles. Follett says sales of its digital products have grown more than 200 percent in-store compared to last year, and 300 percent online.
“For our students who grew up in the Facebook age, they’re comfortable with the medium,” said Phinney.
At Endicott, bookstore manager Lorie McMahon said CafeScribe books have been very popular. That platform, which has rental and digital options, lets professors create class pages similar to Facebook that let students interact with the teacher, the text and each other.
Beyond its ability to meet the educational demands of a new kind of student, electronic textbooks can save students money, Phinney said. She said Inkling books, when purchased through the Salem State bookstore, cost 40 percent less than a new paper textbook, which retails for $70 on average, and CafeScribe saves 40 to 60 percent.
Part of the reason for that is in the options. Rather than buy an entire textbook, students can buy three chapters, selecting only the ones that a professor assigns. With the combination of new, used, rental and electronic books available in the store, “a student can now come in and potentially have six different options,” Phinney said.
Asked whether she would buy an Inkling book over a traditional textbook, Parris, who has a double major in English and education, said she would — and not just because of its high-tech nature.
“It’s definitely more convenient,” she said. “I think it’s a lot easier than lugging around a book.”