E-textbooks: Do students read more, or engage more?

books1The title of this blog post came to mind as I was reading the article “A Campus-Wide E-Textbook Initiative” in the Educause Quarterly. The article summarizes Northwest Missouri State University’s feasibility study of transitioning from paper textbooks to e-textbooks.  The pilot study utilized nine textbooks covering a range of disciplines from business,  psychology, mathematics, information systems, to music. The response to one of the survey questions prompted me to write this post.

The survey gathered data how the use of e-textbooks affected  reading and study habits. One question asked if  students felt they read more when using physical textbooks than they did using e-textbooks. Sixty percent of students felt they read more with using a  physical textbook, and herein lies the question posed by the title of this post. How much engagement, not just reading, occurs in an e-textbook in comparison to a paper textbook?

What’s not indicated in the survey is how similar the level of engagement is between the e-textbooks used in the survey. An e-textbook can be anything from just text in a digital format to a highly interactive experience requiring students to actually engage themselves in the content. A well-designed e-textbook engages the user (I won’t say “reader) in ways other than passive reading. Well-designed e-textbooks become learning environments that leverage the advances of publishing in a digital format enable. E-textbooks can engage the student  in active learning, allow them to explore linked resources, utilize social media applications for sharing and collaboration, assess their understanding as they proceed through a topic and provide immediate feedback to them and their instructor. Paper textbooks often provide assessment resources, or links to online resources but do students use them? Is the convenience of clicking on a link in an e-textbook or getting immediate feedback to review questions more likely to get students to use these resources?

My point is, as schools investigate transitioning to e-textbooks, they need to pose the right questions. Will e-textbooks engage students better than paper textbooks? Is there added value beyond the cost savings that can accrue through their use? It’s not just a matter of just reading an e-textbook, its using them.

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About Michael Ritter PhD
Professor of Geography at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, science textbook author, educational technology blogger, podcaster, and freelance media consultant.

One Response to E-textbooks: Do students read more, or engage more?

  1. Pingback: links for 2009-10-12 « David Wicks: Educational Technology

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