Mechanical Engineering class gets free text

Michael Craighton

Students in Mechanical Engineering 444, Elements and Performance of Power Plants, got a pleasant surprise this semester on the first day of class: a free text for the course.

The book, “Steam: Its Generation and Use”, is the only book being used by the class.

Matt Hagge, lecturer in mechanical engineering, said that not only are the students getting the books for free, they will get to keep them.

“We thought about [having students return the books], but we decided that these are people that are interested,” Hagge said. “This is an optional class, and these are people who are really interested in power plants. So I thought they should have the books.”

Hagge is able to give the books to students for free because the publisher, Babcock and Wilcox Company, is also giving them to students free of charge.

The book being given to students is a 2006 edition, the latest currently in publication. Steam, according to Babcock and Wilcox, is the longest continually published engineering text of its kind in the world.

Most of the reason for using the text was financial.

“It definitely saved a lot of money,” said Jake Smith, senior in mechanical engineering and student in ME 444. “It was a lot easier on the checkbook.”

This semester’s ME 444 was not the first time Hagge offered a free textbook option to students in his class. Beginning fall 2010, Hagge started transitioning his ME 231 class, Engineering Thermodynamics I, into a textbook-free course. Rather than using a book that students were required to purchase from the bookstore, Hagge put his own material online in PDF form for students to freely access.

Hagge also said that, if possible, he plans to continue using free textbook options in his courses in the future.

Although similar things have happened in the past, Carl Arbuckle, textbook department supervisor at the ISU Book Store, was unconcerned about what these few classes are doing.

“It’s kind of a rare thing,” Arbuckle said. “[But] if it became the norm, that would definitely not be good for us.”

However, Arbuckle also said that the only time he tends to hear about free textbooks being offered is when a publisher is running a “pilot program” and using Iowa State as a test campus for a new textbook.

He also said that it is unlikely for faculty to begin handing out free textbooks that they themselves have to manage, primarily because of the additional time and responsibility that come with trying to keep track of that kind of inventory.

Forty-nine copies of the text were able to be given to Iowa State for free because that a new edition is currently in the works, according to Babcock and Wilcox company. The only difference between the version currently in use and the new edition is a slight change in corporate references. In 2010, Babcock and Wilcox separated from McDermott International, Inc. and the new edition simply omits the references to that company.