A bout 800 students at the University of Colorado got a free textbook this year thanks to the university's participation in a pilot program that is looking at the use of electronic textbooks.

For some students, the program amounted to a savings of $250 -- a significant amount for students who often have to buy textbooks for four to six classes every semester.

CU bought a license to become part of publisher McGraw-Hill's pilot e-books program, which is looking at how students and faculty use the functionality -- like the ability to highlight or add notes to books -- built into their e-books, said Mark Werner, associate director of academic technology research at CU. The program gives students in 12 sections of eight classes in classes from sciences to theater to business on the Boulder campus free access to the online version of their textbook.

Brian Groves, director of the CU Bookstore in the University Memorial Center, said they have been selling e-books for several terms now, but they're still a small part of the store's textbook business.

The e-book may be an ideal option for professor Susan Morley's "Income Taxation of Individuals" class in the Leeds School of Business. Taxes change every year, which means students in her class not only have to buy a brand new book every semester, but they typically don't get any money back at then end of the course, either, she said.

CU senior Karly Kopczynski said she has used the e-book for Morley's class only once or twice so far, but the cost savings has already made her a fan of the online text.

"I spent about $370 on my textbooks this semester, and that's the least I've spent in a semester so far," Kopczynski said. "This book would have cost me another $250 if I had to buy it, so I'm really glad we get it for free."

In the past, Morley said she has tried creating a custom book for her class in black-and-white with a soft cover -- that decreased the cost to about $85. Last year, Morley gave students an option to buy the new hardcover textbook or the e-book. Several students took advantage of the cheaper e-book, but she heard complaints about the simplicity of the e-book, a problem she said was solved with the interactive functions included in the current version.

"They hated just reading it on a computer and not being able to highlight or make notes and mark up the book," Morley said. "Now they can do all of that online, plus they can talk to each other and send me questions."

CU professor Mike Klymkowsky created his own e-book called "Biofundamentals" for his "Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology" about seven years ago, and his students have been using the online product for free ever since.

The e-book was created for free and uses the free site Highlighter.com to allow students to add notations and highlights to the online text.