There is nothing novel about books as electronic files, and some use hyperlinks. When portable reading devices use proprietary file formats, an author may be locked into doing business with them. Although a common format such as LaTex or pdf files might improve cross-platform compatibility , there is already Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) that can be read with any internet browser be it on a computer or portable device. This brings into play using hyperlinks when a book is on-line to the internet to have its resources as extensions to reinforce the topics. Although it is not possible to change pages that are on the internet without proper permissions, downloading permits editing and reorganization, but assembling the equivalent of a textbook would be a tiresome chore.
Books on compact disks are also common, but a book on a flask drive has novelty. Scientists and engineers browse the internet almost every day, and a textbook can be a scaffold for both traditional information and internet resources. When the book is on a flash drive, its owner can create a super book by editing its existing pages, capturing fresh material, adding notes and class handouts, and authoring new topics. Because the book occupies relatively little digital memory, much of the flash drive is available for customization. For example, my books have about 3 gigabytes unused on a 4 gigabyte flash drive.
I do not endorse free books and hope that authors will receive some modest compensation. File size matters when downloading, and errors can creep in while capturing a gigabyte of files for pages with hundreds of images for a book in HTML. Rather than buy your own flash drive and download a book to it, you might as well buy it already on a flash drive.
Science and engineering instruction use equations, mathematics, tables, and images to a great extent and are the focus of this discussion. However, authors in other fields should consider flash drives. The piles of compact disks for art instruction, for music instruction, or for language instruction can be replaced by one flash drive. Books on flash drives are bad news for commercial publishers because of easy duplication. Do not be confused by encrypted flash drives because they are de-encrypted BEFORE insertion at a computer port. A pirate could purchase one and copy the de-encrypted content at will. Of course, a pirate could accomplish the same thing by copying the entire set of compact disks to one flash drive.
Hyperlinks to the internet have obvious enhancement for courses in music, architecture, business, and just about any discipline. Rather than display my ignorance, I leave it to the reader to exploit books on flash drives for other disciplines.
Figure 1 illustrates well the concept of a dynamic, evolving book, but the hyperlinks in Fig. 1 should have additional explanations; students should be told to add a sentence or two when they follow the samples in the book to their source pages.
Each week of class lectures corresponds to its page in the book designed for reader input. The instructor can make life easier for students by providing handouts, assignments, homework problems, solutions of problems, and the like in electronic format so that text does not have to be retyped. The e-mail addresses for the entire class can be compiled so that one mailing reaches them all. No instruction is needed for learning how to add new material to the flash drive because the reader can see examples while the file is in a word-processing program. Those who resist learning HTML can simply enclose their text between the commands < pre> and < /pre>, the HTML way of indicating that the words are preformatted and not to be subjected to the usual means for displaying text.
Learning any HTML can be circumvented with one of the word processing programs that can save as a web page, but pages already on a flash drive should be edited with care because a powerful word processing program such as Microsoft Word saves a web page as a large file with all sorts of unneeded commands that hinder finding your own text. I create relatively tiny files with as few HTML commands as possible using a more primitive word processing program, Microsoft WordPad, and append .htm while saving.
Expecting the reader to manage material on the flash drive may sound unattractive, but doing so fosters learning. It is becoming common for students to bring their computer or similar device to class so that notes end up as computer files. Moving them to your customized book and editing them while they are fresh is better than pouring over them right before an exam. Lazy students may shun taking notes when they can get good notes from a classmate but may soon realize that someone else's notes are less powerful than your own for earning good grades. Even more effective is integrating new material with old. For example, the instructor could assign as homework the improvement of a page. The student would certainly benefit from more exposure to the topic and should exercise critical thinking.
Long after taking a course, there should be many occasions where a person runs across information and thinks that it belongs in the book that started when taking that course. When not suited for cutting and pasting, documents can be scanned to be added as images. Contrast this with packing notes, reprints, news clippings, and the like into folders in a file cabinet to languish and to be buried amidst other items of varying relevance.
Some judgment should guide the selection of what merits downloading from the internet. For example, Wikipedia seems here to stay, and YouTube may also be permanent. There is no need to download anything from Wikipedia, and what you capture may become outdated while the version at Wikipedia is new. Videos on the internet are a different matter because the authors may delete them. Although videos take up too much memory to have more than a few of them on the flash drive, it makes sense to capture those whose loss would vex you.
When an author produces a video, it is wise to upload it to YouTube and to hyperlink to it because there is no compatibility problem; its videos run on all browsers. YouTube has had a profound influence on my books because there are so many videos about analytical procedures, factories, installations, and equipment. Some of pages that had my animations were scrapped and replaced by hyperlinks because videos on the internet, either at YouTube or on pages from manufacturers, were better and more professional. For example in environmental engineering, there are dozens of videos showing entire treatment plants or steps for treatment from all around the world that convey a true sense of practicality. Other videos are sketches with animation and good explanations.
Videos of class room lectures should be superior to live lectures that have timing that is the same for all students but too fast for some and too slow for others. The video can be rewound to repeat sections that were not understood well the first time around or fast forwarded when the viewer skips sections of minor interest. However, even videotaped lectures of master teachers tend to be unpopular with students. My take on this is too much exposure on television to talking heads who earned their jobs in competition with a multitude of other aspiring talking heads. Few teachers have a voice, mannerisms, and delivery technique to appeal to jaded viewers. The implication is that pages in a book should have features that capture attention.
My fields of biochemical engineering and environmental engineering are well-suited for teaching with simulations based on differential equations. An example is shown in Fig. 2 for simulation of microbial growth and nutrient uptake versus time. The student manipulates coefficients in the differential equations to observe the effects and to prepare for test questions that ask for explanations for the shapes of the curves. I have several dozen pages of this type.
Fig. 3 Typical educational game
A game that is fun to play can be addictive and may teach effectively. The FERMT game introduces fermentation jargon and mimics the assignment of formulating a good recipe for optimized profitably in large fermenters. The game has been played by thousands of students around the world.
Sound clips are relatively unimportant for books for science and engineering except for teaching correct pronunciation. I recall a professor whose talk called hydrolysate hydro lysate and a German speaker saying deb briss instead of debris.
The PowerPoint presentations in my books are intended to serve as templates that the instructor should modify for class lectures to match the goals of the course. Readers are discouraged from considering them as first sources because you can imagine how a slide lecture will fail without the author present to explain with emphasis and digressions. Although the presentation has value especially when the student uses it for review, a PowerPoint presentation without a speaker falls flat.
A wise author should not solicit more such presentations for a flash drive book because of security risks and copyright issues. Why take the responsibility for foreign files when they can be left on their author's web sites? I am eager to learn of more PowerPoint presentations on the internet and will be delighted to add links in my books and to credit the authors. All of us can be careless about intellectual property when adding images and quotations to our presentations, and I decline taking responsibility for other authors failing to obtain proper permissions. Furthermore, the owner of intellectual property is unlikely to prosecute occasional misuse but might be upset by a book full of transgressions.
Many of my pages started as student term projects that are slightly modified and are acknowledged in the book. The problem is that I don't own them. The solution in my case is to forget making money and all profits from sales go to the H. P. Isermann Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering. This is not much of a hardship because I have earned little money from my four textbooks that were published by and promoted by established companies.
Why pay anything for a textbook when there are some complete textbooks for free on the internet? I surmise that the authors of free textbooks were unable to find publishers and sought solace or revenge by placing the book on the internet. To customize such a book, you have to move it to your computer or to a read/write device such as a flash drive. A book that is already on a flash drive and that is designed for customization saves considerable time. By the way, some of the pages in free textbooks are superior to my pages and could easily be captured from the internet and used as replacement pages.
There is not yet a marketing method for a book on a flash drive, and commercial publishers will show little interest in an inexpensive book that never requires another edition. I list my books on eBay to simplify sales and marketing.
Students are going to share and will divide up assignments. When they correct an error on a page or find valuable information on the internet, they will pass it on to their friends. An instructor should assist this by collecting and distributing the best improvements to the entire class. This will evolve to a textbook that is better than the original.
Instructors without the time or incentives for writing books and some enterprising students will undertake the far more modest task of authoring a page or two and will add slightly to their reputations should others like the results. All it takes is to give the new page the same name as the old page, cut and paste the hyperlinks for navigation, and copy it to the correct location on the flash drive to make a change. I would encourage the use of footnotes on the new page, for example "Replacement page for (file name) in the book 'J. Doe, Principles of Galactic Zoology' ".
My eBooks have no restrictions on copying or distribution. For those aspiring authors who seek fame through having their book adopted widely, an eBook with no restrictions can advance them toward their goal in stages. With the eBook as the template, a customized version aimed at their own course can be tested and improved. Asking the opinions of others should inspire them to contribute in ways that will create books that outshine by far the books now in circulation. Over time, all or most of the original pages will be replaced as a book evolves. Another author can put my pages in a new book and should kindly acknowledge the originals. My updates on the mainframe computer at my university will become obsolete as better update sites created by younger and more modern authors compete with me. If the fate of my pages is to become footnotes in future books, so be it.