UTPA dean joins new trend and publishes engineering e-book
Posted: 07/21/2012
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Dr. David Allen, dean of The University of Texas-Pan American's College of Engineering and Computer Science (CECS), has always put his students first.

"I wouldn't be a dean if I didn't care about students. I wouldn't be teaching if I didn't care about students, and frankly, it is the most important thing I do," Allen said.

When the college dean began researching books to use in his undergraduate engineering classes, he said it became utterly clear that his options were limited.

"When I surveyed the textbooks, they are too expensive and they are terrible," Allen said. "In addition, they were all printed."

Instead of settling for a subpar publication, Allen opted to write his own course notes. The series of course notes evolved into a book after a year. That is when the Springer Publishing Company contacted him.

"They heard I was writing a book but I told them I didn't want to publish it. I wanted it to be an open source document, but they struck a deal with me," he said.

Allen agreed to publish the book on one condition: UTPA engineering students will receive the book free of charge. The book -"Introduction to the Mechanics of Solids: Bars and Beams"- was released Aug. 27 and is available in both print and in an electronic version. Allen said his students already have access to the e-book.

"It was under that set of restrictions that I was willing to publish it," Allen said.

Dean of the Library Dr. Farzaneh Razzaghi established a contractual agreement with Springer to make the textbook available.

"This is very important. I wish that more faculty who write textbooks would ask for such agreements with publishers," Razzaghi said.

Allen said he is elated that his students are receiving the online version of the 300-page book for free.

"It's an excellent deal for the University and for our students. It is not about money for me. It is about my students being able to get access to what they need," Allen said.

The book is used by junior engineering students in an introductory mechanical engineering course. The focus: building a structure and determining whether it will stay upright or collapse.

"I've been teaching this course for 26 years," Allen said. "The inspiration was a lifetime of interest in solid mechanics."

According to Allen's publisher, his book is the first e-book the company published on this subject.

"Textbook publishing is changing dramatically and much of it is becoming internet based," Allen said.

He said paper books are not doomed to extinction, but the emergence of e-readers - like Barnes & Noble's Nook, Amazon's Kindle and Apple's iPad - is certainly changing the face of textbook publishing. The longtime professor believes e-books will in some cases replace the traditional paper-based texts.

"I eventually want every student in the class to walk in with a Nook, a Kindle or an iPad," he said. "The publishing field is in a state of chaos, but I am pretty certain that the students are going to end up the winners because the prices of books are dropping so fast."

The head of the CECS said the educational shift toward digital resources will have to take place in the engineering world as well, in order to remain viable.

Despite the seismic change in education, there is one thing that hasn't changed: Allen's presence in the classroom. Few college deans still teach, but Allen said after more than three decades in the classroom he simply will not give it up.

"I never left the classroom. I have taught continually since 1976. I refuse to not teach," Allen said. "I consider being a dean a transitory thing in my life but I consider myself ultimately to be a lifelong academic. I can't imagine doing anything else."