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No More Pencils, No More Books?
by Kendra Mayfield

3:00 a.m. 9.Mar.2000 PST
Most of today's tech-savvy college students are using cell phones, laptops, and pagers but continue the decidely low-tech practice of lugging around backpacks filled with 40 pounds of textbooks.

A natural solution is electronic reading devices that allow students to instantly store over 100,000 pages in a single paperback-sized package.

Learn more in Making the Grade
Tinker around with Gadgets and Gizmos

In universities, high schools, and elementary schools these e-books already are in high demand.

But despite their obvious advantages, there are few digital textbooks available. Most textbooks are often out of date by the time they hit the shelves, but electronic publishing material is inexpensive to produce and can be upgraded almost immediately.

"Educators are thrilled and excited about adding e-books to the curriculum," said Jim Sachs, CEO and co-founder of SoftBook. "Kids are beside themselves with excitement over it."

SoftBook has launched pilot projects in Texas and Austria to test e-book acceptance in classrooms.

Unlike the rest of the United States, where local communities set curriculums, Texas' statewide curriculum provides a natural test-bed for new electronic publishing tools.

Using the SoftBook Reader, students can download lesson plans, assignments, and supplemental texts from the Internet without having to use a PC.

Teachers can customize lesson plans using portions of different electronic textbooks to create hybrid curriculums.

Versaware, an electronic-book publisher, has signed deals with three of the top academic textbook publishers to digitize, convert, and distribute electronic textbooks.

Versaware also features electronic libraries where students can download, store, and print their e-books.

In addition to customizable, updateable content, e-books' multimedia capabilities have the potential to change the way that students read.

"Students are getting a better learning experience because they have multimedia to help them," said Julie Greenblatt, Versaware's vice president of business development.

Offering an alternative to print textbooks and e-books, New Media Books recently patented a digitizing technology that combines content-rich printed material with media-rich electronic material.

"We started with the idea of reducing the size and cost of college textbooks and making them more effective for students to read," said founder John Williams. He patented the idea after years of frustration with teaching science courses in which textbooks would go unopened.

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