Student Store Selling DVD-Format Study Guides

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A new multimedia study guide came to the Cal Student Store earlier this week, offering classical literature analysis in a DVD rather than the traditional text format.

Rocketbooks are the latest product in the literary summary and analysis market, currently dominated by the more familiar CliffsNotes and SparkNotes. The new guides are making their way onto more than 70 college campuses nationwide, including UCLA and Stanford University.

"The simplest way to explain them is to say that they are CliffsNotes for the 21st century," said Steve Emerson, president and founder of Rocketbook, LLC, the Portland-based company that produces the Rocketbook DVDs nationwide.

Rocketbooks are designed to help students academically by breaking down novels and presenting the material to students in the simplest terms possible, he said.

"Today's students are very visual. They're on the net. They're playing video games. They're watching multi-million dollar movies. When you hand some students a book, they see black text on white paper. It's boring," Emerson said. "That's our big edge on Cliffs or Sparks, students will be excited to use our product, not bored by it."

Despite the new approach, Emerson said not all reactions to the supplement have been positive.

"We have been at trade shows where professors have waived off our product as a 'cheaters' supplement' but are unwilling to go on record with their viewpoints," Emerson said. "I won't deny that a skepticism about our product exists. I don't agree with it, but it's out there."

The debate is part of the larger argument over the use of supplementary resources which critics, including professors, say discourage students from reading and forming their own ideas about literature.

Some UC Berkeley students said the tool was a convenient and useful way to offer varying viewpoints on a literary piece.

"I see (Rocketbooks) as more of a supplement. I used to always buy CliffNotes when I was in high school. It's just nice to see what others' interpretation of the themes of the book are," said freshman Stephanie Didas, a chemical engineering major.

Others said the Rocketbook DVDs will not have a significant effect on their study habits and that with the ever-expanding scope of the Internet, students may forgo shelling out money for the DVD.

"It depends on the student. Some students will actually be interested and read the book, but others will just use it as a summary to avoid reading," said political science major Erika Cheng. "I don't think selling the DVDs will have a big impact. Students who don't want to read the book will just look for summaries online anyway."

But despite opposition, Emerson said he expects Rocketbooks to make a large impact on reading comprehension nationwide within the next five years.

"Students who otherwise would have been disinterested or frustrated by novels will improve in their literature classes and participate in classroom discussions," Emerson said. "More students will have have higher test scores and embrace reading classic literature."

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