Investigating the increasing popularity of eTextbooks: An interview with author Dr. N.S Punekar

By: Sacha Billett , Sun May 17 2020
Sacha Billet

Author: Sacha Billett

In order to support institutions their students and researchers during the unusual circumstances of the pandemic we have made a number of textbooks freely available to facilitate distance-learning. One title in particular, from the Biomedical & Life Sciences collection, caught our attention as it has proven to be incredibly popular: ENZYMES: Catalysis, Kinetics and Mechanisms by Dr. N.S Punekar which at the time of writing had been downloaded more than 4.5 million times. We decided to talk to Dr. Punekar about the success of his textbook and how eBooks are changing the way students access research around the world.

Dr. Narayan S. Punekar
Dr. Punekar is a Professor at prestigious the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay, India. His interests lie in microbial biochemistry and molecular enzymology; microbial metabolic regulation, understanding metabolism through biochemical and recombinant DNA techniques, fungal molecular genetics and its applications to metabolic engineering. He has published around 50 papers in peer reviewed journals and impressively has 4 patents to his credit. He has been an excellent teacher of enzymology and industrial microbiology which is evident by the fact that he has received the “Excellence in Teaching Award” at IIT Bombay in the years 2000 and 2012.

Your textbook ENZYMES: Catalysis, Kinetics and Mechanisms has been steadily downloaded since it was published in 2018 – What do you attribute the popularity of this title?

Most biology teaching programs have rapidly expanded into molecular and cellular biology. Meanwhile, the overall expertise in teaching/ learning enzymology has declined exponentially and they often manage with a makeshift enzymology instructor. Over the last three decades, devoted enzymologists have become a rare breed while a working knowledge of enzymology remains indispensable. Enzymes have come to occupy vast areas of modern biology research and the biotechnology industry. And biologists who chart their research to the finest level of detail will have to deal with enzymes. This book attempts to provide the basics of enzymology for the uninitiated and particularly to those students of biology with minimal exposure to chemical and quantitative skills.

How is your textbook being used for teaching and learning?

While understanding enzyme action is at the heart of modern biology, very few well-trained enzymologists are available today. Hence, content that encourages students/novice researchers to understand, design and execute experiments involving enzymes is desirable; this book is expected to serve that purpose. Written with a self-study format in mind, the emphasis is on how to begin experiments with an enzyme and subsequently analyze the data collected. Individual concepts are treated as stand-alone short sections, and the book is largely modular in organization. The reader can focus on a concept (with real examples) with minimal cross-referencing to the rest of the book. Learning the subject in the absence of a specialist teacher is a major motivation in putting this book together. Apparently that objective is amply fulfilled.

Your book has now been made freely available to support higher education institutions worldwide through the Coronavirus – why did you choose to support this initiative?

It has always been my aim to reach out to interested students - particularly those having meagre access to enzymology teaching - both in terms of well-trained teachers and price accessibility of such books.  I am glad that the initiative supports higher education institutions under these extraordinary times.

You can download free ENZYMES: Catalysis, Kinetics and Mechanisms here.

As a teaching professor at the Indian Institute of Technology (Bombay) have you noticed a change in the way that students access research?

Yes indeed. Over the years, there has been reduced use/dependence on hard copies and more emphasis on PDF versions and eBooks. Often, students generously download e-copies of research literature. 

While my book has been written to facilitate self-study, it is worth bearing in mind that the role of the teacher, is still important. As T.S. Eliot once said, “Where is the knowledge that we have lost in information?” Some texts may be hard to fully understand, especially for new students, and a downloaded PDF is not necessarily a PDF read or fully understood without the guidance of a good (virtual) teacher.

Clarity and simplicity of the written word with emphasis on a self-study approach is a need of the hour. Otherwise, there will always be a volume of information but little knowledge or understanding.

Do you think there has been a benefit in providing textbooks as eBooks via libraries?

Certainly. In this world of internet, very few readers actually cherish hard copies of books. The eBooks when provided by the libraries come handy in accessing them remotely (social distancing!). Such e-textbooks can also be carried around and searched with ease. eBooks are the in-thing with so much space available for storing data.

Dr Punekar’s textbook ENZYMES: Catalysis, Kinetics and Mechanisms is part of Springer Nature’s Biomedicine & Life Sciences eBook Collection. If you’d like more information about the Biomedicine & Life Sciences eBook Collection, a list of the textbooks included, or a personalized quote for your institution please contact us here

Sacha Billet

Author: Sacha Billett

Sacha Billett is a Content Marketing Manager in the Institutional Marketing team, based in the Dordrecht office. Supporting the Sales and Account Development teams, she is enthusiastic about finding innovate ways to communicate with the library community.