Marketing & Communications

An environmentally friendly textbook

Karen Root creates first online-only environmental science text

“I’m tired of having all these huge, glossy, heavy textbooks that are used for just one semester,” said BGSU biologist Dr. Karen Root. “And I’m tired of being limited to electronic content that only works with a single platform.”

Root has written the first online environmental science textbook. Published by Sinauer and using Ramas® software, “Environmental Science: Science-Based Problem Solving in Today’s World” will be available this month. Unlike print textbooks that have an online version or come with a CD, this book “only lives on the Web,” Root says, which means she is not “contributing to the proliferation of textbooks” — a key aspect for a conservation biologist, she noted. Also unlike most print books, each chapter contains labs with multiple interactive exercises that explore prevailing environmental issues.

A boon for users is that the inquiry-based content works across software platforms, including on iPads. “That was important,” Root said. “A lot of books come with a CD of material that runs only on Windows, but universities tend to use Macs, so there has been a whole group of people who couldn’t use it.”

With a lower cost — $65, compared to from $80 to well over $100 for many of the leading textbooks — the book will be more affordable for students, she said. To purchase it, users will buy a card at their university bookstore with a code that allows them to download it. While it can be printed from the Web, access is limited to six months.

“It’s presented in 14 lessons, which is the typical number of weeks in a semester,” Root said. But it also is modular, so the topics may be presented in any order and the book can be used for other courses in addition to environmental science, including conservation biology, introduction to biology for nonmajors, ecology, landscape ecology, evolutionary biology, and endangered species.

Being online also allows the content to be updated as needed, she said. “We can review it annually, so it will be more dynamic. Plus doing it on the Web allows easier and greater access to current data such as Census reports and other sources.”

Beyond the technical advancements, the book takes a research-based approach to environmental issues and brings students a real-world perspective on how they are decided — a world in which “you never have enough clear, decisive information and things are not purely good or bad,” Root said. “I want to give them a balanced view.

“The last chapter is presented as a court case concerning land use that students are asked to act out in class,” she explained. Playing the attorneys and judges, students must choose among the available data to build their cases pro and con.

“A lot more learning goes on this way, and the students become very passionate about their arguments. But the most important thing for them to learn is the supplemental arguments you make that go beyond what the data alone can tell,” Root said. “Humans are also a part of the equation of solving environmental problems, and situations are often time sensitive. Decisions must often be made using imperfect information.”

“Environmental Science” is complemented by an instructor’s manual that includes tests, a guide to the labs included in the text, and additional resource material.

Root was already known in the online educational sphere for the Web-based labs she had created when she worked for Applied Biomathematics, before coming to BGSU in 2002. A number of schools and an online-only institution, Ashford University, have been using them for some time. The labs are still available for purchase separately from the text and have been redesigned to work across platforms, Root said.