Are chemistry instructors and
students ready for an Internet-based chemistry text?
Presented by Mark Bishop
I've launched an
Internet-based version of my preparatory chemistry textbook, An
Introduction to Chemistry, first published by Benjamin Cummings in
2002. I am, of course, extremely curious as to whether a web-based text will be well received by chemical
educators. While I will use my text as an example, I will
try to concentrate on broader questions in hopes of stimulating
some active discussion. If you want more information about my
Internet text and tools, the link below will take you on a tour.
Although my text was first published by
Benjamin Cummings, the Internet version is self-published, so
the questions that I am presenting for discussion relate to both
Internet-based textbooks and possibilities that the Internet and
new printing methods provide for self-publishing.
Is it possible for one person
or a small group of people to create a quality chemistry
text and supplemental materials without the support of the
Can chemical educators be
convinced that a text that is not distributed by a known
publishing house can be of high enough quality to consider
adopting for their classes?
If there is some resistance
to new approaches to delivering information, what factors
might counter-balance these concerns...price?...flexibility?
What's the best way for
self-published material to be reviewed?
Are students ready to get
more information from computer-based sources? What
percentage of students have computers at home? How many have
the fast Internet connection necessary to easily access
modern web tools? Are students comfortable using computers
at school or in libraries?
What percentage of students
would want a hard copy of an Internet-based text? Would they
be content with a black-and-white version, assuming that
they have access to the color version on the Internet?
How will authors be
compensated for their work?
What's the best way to
advertise self-published material?
Can it be done?
There are a lot of tools
available that make it fairly easy (though hugely time
consuming) to create Internet-based materials.
For example, I
created all the illustrations in my text using Adobe
Illustrator. I took many of the text photographs myself with a
digital camera and improved them using Adobe Photoshop. Many of
the other photos came from royalty-free Internet sources where
the photos are very inexpensive. I found a few additional
photographs on the Internet, and people were kind enough to give
me permission to use them. I did the text layout and Acrobat
file creation using Adobe InDesign. I created the animations,
tutorials, and glossary quizzes using Macromedia’s Director. There's PowerPoint for presentations,
as well as various programs, such
as FrontPage and Dreamweaver, for website creation.
You can see my text and its
supporting tools at
The table of contents, periodic table, text chapters, student
study guide chapters, appendices, answers to selected problems,
and the complete glossary/index can be viewed as Acrobat files.
All of these files are of the same quality that you would expect
from any modern text, including photographs, illustrations, and
a professional layout. The website also includes Shockwave
animations, tutorials, checklists for each chapter, PowerPoint
presentations, chapter maps, glossary quizzes, and Chime
Are instructors ready?
conference may help answer that question.
I'm guessing that many people will think an
internet-based text is a
good idea, but, at least in the beginning, few will actually
adopt such a text. I'm hoping to be surprised. What do you
What's the carrot?
I'm planning several approaches
to encourage instructors to take the plunge into new territory.
First, I'm trying to keep the cost low. There are four ways that
students can gain access to the text.
Students who have easy access to the Internet and who feel
comfortable viewing the text on the computer are asked to pay
$20 for that privilege.
$20 creates a significant financial hardship, I’m happy to
provide the Internet version of my text and tools for free.
Students with slow Internet connections can purchase a CD for
$29.95 that contains all of the website files.
Students who want a hard copy of the text can purchase a
black-and-white version from me for $39.95. The printed text can
be purchased through college bookstores at a cost of $59.95. The
study guide with selected answers to text problems that
accompanies the text is $29.95 directly from me and $49.95 from
Second, it is possible for someone who is
self-publishing to offer more flexibility. It is common for instructors to like the features
of a text but not necessarily the order in which information is
presented. Ideally, different versions of the text would be
different orders of topics, and instructors
could pick the version that best fits their approach to the course.
The publishing houses see this as a logistical nightmare, but if authors
are comfortable doing the layout of their texts themselves, it
is relatively easy to make this happen. For example, programs such as
Quark and InDesign allow one to rearrange the
order of chapters, eliminate chapters, change the table of
contents, adjust the index, and renumber figures, tables,
exercises, and examples without spending a huge amount of time. I have created two versions of my text
(a chemistry-first version and an early-unit-conversions
version), and I plan to make two more (an
early-chemical-calculations version and an atoms-first version).
For the printed version of my text, I also
plan to provide the option of omitting chapters
that an instructor chooses not to cover. The
instructor could choose from among several base versions of the
text and also choose not to have later, less important, chapters
included. The goal is to provide texts that are as closely
tailored to each instructor’s course as possible. I can even
include material created by the instructor.
Changes and corrections to a
web-based text can be made very quickly, especially when the
author is also the webmaster (which is fairly easy to do with
programs such as FrontPage or Dreamweaver). My experience with a
large publishing house taught me that because it is a large
bureaucratic organization, it often takes what seems like
forever to get anything done, including a simple correction on a
Are there other factors that you
think would encourage instructors to adopt an Internet-based text?
Every author needs feedback, and
it's important that this feedback come throughout the writing
process. I had Benjamin Cummings to find and pay for over 70
reviewers and two saintly developmental editors, so I got
constant feedback and suggestions. It's not so easy for someone
self-publishing from the beginning. Although there are people,
such as those who are active contributors to listservs, who are
willing to share their ideas for free, I feel that if reviewers
are asked to look closely at portions of a text, they should be
Do you suppose that the American Chemical
Society or some other organization might contribute in some way?
Do you have any
Are students ready?
My experience tells me that
students are not only ready but anxious to use computer-based
learning tools. The key issue is how much we can rely on
computers and the Internet. Computers are so important to what I
do that I have to remind myself that not everyone has a $1000+
computer sitting on their desk with a fast Internet connection.
Despite this, my own experience suggests that it has become
reasonable to expect students to have Internet access either at
home or at school. I haven't polled my students recently, but I
think that a very high percentage of my students have easy
computer access. I run my courses assuming it's true, and my
students have not mentioned that this is a problem.
What do you think?
A hard copy too?
I have some seriously geeky
tendencies, but when I'm learning something new, even a new
computer program, I sit down with a book and my highlighter to
read. Although the younger generation is more comfortable
reading text on the computer screen, I suspect that most of the
students who read their texts carefully will want a hard copy.
Acrobat files print well, but it's time-consuming and costly to
print an 800-page text on a home printer. For this reason, I am
offering a printed copy of my text. It will be interesting to
see how many students buy it.
There's no doubt in my mind that
color images are better than black-and-white. Some of my
Illustrator-created images are hard to decipher in
black-and-white. The problem is that color printing like that
done by the publishers requires a large up-front expense that is
beyond the budget of most school teachers. For now, this restricts
the printing of self-published books to black-and-white. I don't
think this is a huge problem. Although color is more appealing,
the basic information, examples, study sheets, problems, and
other components of the text are efficiently presented in
black-and-white. Access to the Internet version of a text will
allow images to be viewed in full color.
How do you think
students will react to this?
To create quality textbook and
supplemental materials takes a huge amount of time, and the
creators should be compensated. I'm hoping to be compensated in
two ways, through payments for use of the website and through
the sale of hard copies. I'm curious as to whether others expect
my approach to work.
Do you agree that some form of
compensation is necessary to encourage people to spend the time
it takes to create quality work? Are there other ideas for
How do we let people know that our
work is available?
The Internet and email make
advertising a self-published work easier and cheaper. Some
options are free, such as contacting chemistry instructors through email.
I'm a little uneasy about this, because I don't want to be seen as adding to
the flood of spam. I'm interested in collecting opinions
about how periodic email messages are likely to be received.
This online conference is an
example of another great
way to let people know that new work is available. Also, with some
expense, an author can attend chemistry conferences around the
What else can be done?
What other issues related to the self-publishing of an Internet-based chemistry
text occur to you? I'll be glad to respond to any questions that you have
about my experience in this new realm, and I would greatly
appreciate any comments or suggestions about what I've done.
If you want to know more about the text, you can select one
of the following links:
Thanks for the opportunity to
share information about my work.