Kids & Money

K-State professor develops textbook flexibility

Predictions that electronic textbooks would push traditional books to the back shelf on college campuses have so far proved overly optimistic.

But Brian Lindshield remains a big believer.

The assistant professor of human nutrition at Kansas State University has developed an online teaching product that relies on flexbook technology. That’s “flex” as in “flexibility.”

Designed primarily to be read online, Lindshield’s flexbook includes plenty of visuals, with links to videos, animations, current events and other relevant materials that can be found on the Web. As such, it suits many learning styles.

But perhaps the best part is that Lindshield’s book is free to students — a sweet deal for anyone who has ever shelled out $500 or far, far more per semester for textbooks

Lindshield’s textbook replacement, titled “Kansas State University Human Nutrition Flexbook,” has gained national attention. It’s one of three educational nominees for a prestigious People’s Choice Award for the most open resource. The winner will be announced in September.

While electronic textbooks have been touted as being more affordable, more adaptable and less cumbersome than traditional print products, they account for only about 9 percent of textbook sales, according to recently published reports.

There are several reasons why. Some instructors who write their own textbooks have not been financially motivated to switch to electronic books. Some earlier versions of e-textbooks also were not user friendly or did not cost significantly less than regular books.

But surprisingly in this digital age, it seems many students still prefer the traditional print product over a PDF file.

Lindshield was a student at Kansas State when he first recognized the need for a better and less expensive textbook.

“I felt exploited by textbook publishers,” said Lindshield, 32. “I decided that if I were ever in a position to do so, I would try to develop an online form of textbooks. I came into (teaching) with that mindset.”

He taught the human nutrition course for the first time in spring 2009 and used an electronic reference book rather than the $150 book recommended for the course.

After feedback from students indicated they wanted something that wasn’t too technical to use and that would be easy to print pages, Lindshield and a student assistant went to work.

They began a project that consumed hundreds of hours before a finished product was introduced to his class a year later. Lindshield’s design, which has more figures and visuals than huge amounts of text, was based on a flexbook template developed by the CK-12 Foundation in California.

To meet students’ personal learning styles, Lindshield created four ways to use the flexbook: through Google Docs, a weblink, PDF files or a printable “hard copy” version.

The electronic platform is also easy to update. If Lindshield sees a timely news article on a website, he can simply add a link to it so students can access the information. That’s the value of using flexbook technology.

Students so far have embraced Lindshield’s approach. The hard copy of the course book is the least used, Lindshield said.

His flexbook is also being used for a human nutrition course at Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

Lindshield is encouraging professors to look for resources beyond textbooks. He also understands the transition may take time.

But that’s often how it works when you’re rocking the establishment.