In high-speed world, online resources help students keep up

Students can do everything, from buy books to pay tuition, online

In this day and age, the Internet seems like the one-stop everything for college students. Take, for example, a freshman Biola student living in Horton Hall. He can sit down in front of his iBook G4 — the sleek black version, of course — and without even plugging in an internet cable, he can buy his textbooks, choose his classes for next semester, learn about Plato and chat with his friends, without even lifting a leg.

Today’s college student has just about every resource imaginable at his fingertips. From finding cheap textbooks to knowing how “hot” your next semester’s professors are going to be, there are an unlimited number of educational resources out there beyond a student’s university.

One of the most significant trends occurring among college students is the purchasing of textbooks online rather than in the bookstore. According to a recent poll conducted by the National Association of College Stores, approximately 23% of students across the United States bought their textbooks through the Internet. A third of those purchased their textbooks from the online bookstores of their own universities.

Although the percentage may seem small, there is an increasing demand for cheaper textbooks. Online bookstores like Amazon.com have become increasingly popular because of the quick and easy accessibility to affordable texts. In fact, the average U.S. college student spends about $801-$904 a year on textbooks. Most college students are willing to trade in their brand new Borders-bought textbooks for ancient versions of the text complete with bite marks on the covers and scribbled epiphanies in the margins for the sake of saving some money.

The Biola University Bookstore gives students the option of purchasing textbooks online and picking up their orders at the bookstore. According to Melissa Sarumian, a customer service representative at the Biola Bookstore, they make about 1,400 online textbook orders a semester, not including orders made for the Biola’s BOLD program.

“It goes up every semester,” said Sarumian in reference to the number of students purchasing textbooks from the bookstore’s online Web site.

Furthermore, the huge crowds that flooded Biola’s bookstore at the beginning of each semester have diminished ever since the launch of the online option for textbook purchases.

“It makes the store not so hectic,” Sarumian said.

Another option for college students is Half.com, famed for selling textbooks priced at 50% or more of the retail price.

“It’s cheaper, and it’s reliable the majority of the time,” junior Ji Ran Lee said.

With high tuition costs and must-have college sweatshirts, the Web site is great for students watching their budget. Lee doesn’t only use the Web site to purchase textbooks, but also buys CDs for as low as 75 cents. The shipping is relatively cheap, and shoppers are informed of the book’s condition. Students can also sell their textbooks for a higher price than the Biola bookstore will pay. Half.com charges a fee of 5 to 15 percent for each transaction.

With hundreds of online bookstores specializing in new and used textbooks, some Web sites are looking to gain an advantage on the competition. A recent phenomenon called Textbookflix.com has even surfaced, taking its name from popular online movie rental site Netflix. Like its popular counterpart, the Web site rents out textbooks for an entire semester. Students pay a one-time fee for the rental and send it back at the end of the semester when they’ve finished using the textbook.

Although some hate waiting as long as 2-3 weeks for shipping, others feel like cheaper textbooks and the convenience of purchasing textbooks online is worth it.

Besides making textbook purchases, there are many other resources available for Biola students outside the Biola network. Ratemyprofessor.com and wikipedia.com are just two of the popular Web sites among college students.

For help in choosing classes during WebReg, Biola students have flocked to Ratemyprofessor.com. Nearly every professor at Biola, both adjunct and faculty, are rated on the Web site based on several factors, including easiness, clarity and textbook use.

“I use it to see which professor is good or not. It’s helpful being able to see which professor I might get along with, or how hard their class is,” said junior Robert Orozco.

Some students, like Orozco, use the site for its academic value, while there are many who simply get a kick out of commenting on and rating their professors. The Web site even allows users to rate their professors based on “hotness.” Being able to freely voice their opinions, students have taken advantage of the site to comment on the homework load, lecture style and other relevant topics of a given class and can choose to leave their name or to remain anonymous. The Web site has become so popular that mtvU, a branch of MTV and Viacom targeting college students, recently bought Ratemyprofessor.com

Wikipedia is another popular Web site among college students. Started by a nonprofit organization, it allows users to post their own articles and to add to articles already posted, creating an ever-changing, growing library of articles on everything imaginable.

“It can be somewhat useful when you want to look up a quick reference on a person, day or an event,” shared Robert Llizo, a lecturer and mentor for Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute.

Easy to use for almost anyone, the resource can be both a help and a hindrance to college students. With 24-hour access to the Web site’s articles, users lacking sufficient academic background on a subject can easily alter any of the millions of articles with a few taps of the keyboard. Many professors, including Mr. Llizo, will not accept Wikipedia as a cited source in any research paper.

“A lot of what you see there is not really data and research taken from trained professionals in their fields. You’re not getting a full scholarly treatment of an event or person,” Mr. Llizo said. Even Wikipedia founder, Jimmy Wales, discouraged use of his creation at a 2006 conference.

Speaking about the multiple emails a week he gets from college students, he said, “They say, ‘Please help me. I got an F on my paper because I cited Wikipedia’… For God’s sake, you’re in college; don’t cite the encyclopedia.”

As more and more Biola students are turning to the internet for educational resources, Biola’s computer support facilities are getting savvy on the need for easier internet access around the campus.

Scott Himes, the manager of network services at Biola, asserted that “Internet access is relied upon more than ever for educational tasks, as well as for social connections and interactions, so greater availability provides greater freedom in getting to those resources whenever we choose to make use of them.”

Biola’s IT Department has already taken steps in providing easier access for the 2007 fall semester. Over the summer, wireless Internet was installed in the four Rosecrans apartment buildings and wireless network coverage in Alpha Chi, Hope Hall and the café are currently underway.

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