In the digital age we live in where print mediums are being rapidly replaced by their digital counterparts, a surprising amount of skepticism continues to surround the electronic textbook.
That doesn’t mean the e-textbook doesn’t have it’s supporters. Alberta’s advanced education minister Doug Horner recently announced his desire to launch an online book depository for Alberta students, with the hopes that it could cut the costs of textbooks for students in half.
Horner told the Edmonton Journal that the students would have access to textbooks written in Alberta, in addition to commonly used first-year textbooks used at a variety of institutions. “Because isn’t the objective to help the student achieve, as opposed to paying a stipend to whoever wrote a book?” Horner said.
While this could be a groundbreaking development for Alberta post secondary education, Horner may have some serious obstacles to overcome. Perhaps his biggest? Convincing students to give up their cherished 10 pound paper textbooks.
One of the most significant factors in the failure of electronic textbooks to take over the education world has been the reluctance of students to make the switch. Despite often costing a fraction of what a new textbook costs, (the New York Times pointed out that e-textbooks are usually more expensive than a used textbook, but less expensive than a rental or new textbook) they continue to be a hard sell to students. “The screen won’t go blank,” Faton Begolli, a sophomore from Boston, told the Times. “There can’t be a virus. It wouldn’t be the same without books. They’ve defined ‘academia’ for a thousand years.”
Other students told the Times that eBooks can strain your eyes, and it’s easy to get distracted if you’re reading a textbook on your computer.
A study conducted by OnCampus Research in October found that students have been reluctant to catch on to e-readers, seemingly for these very reasons. According to a press release issued by the National Association of College Stores, the study found approximately 92 percent of students surveyed said that they do not own an e-reader, and only 13 percent had bought an eBook over the past three months. Some students explained in the comment section of the survey that they would never buy a digital textbook, and prefer having a physical copy that they can highlight and write notes on.
This hasn’t stopped companies from trying to sway students to a digital option. Amazon launched the Kindle DX last year, which has a larger screen better suited to reading textbook material, along with a pilot project with seven colleges and universities in the United States to find out how to make the device appealing for campus users.
Barnes and Noble College Booksellers has also tried to hook students on their e-textbook software, NOOKstudy, by giving away “College Kick Start Kits”, with ramen noodle recipes, tips for how to deal with college roommates, and access to several classics such as Dante’s “Inferno”.
Not all students are vehemently opposed to the e-textbook, and some educators have thrown their support behind the e-textbook option as well. Anne Jordan, professor emeritus at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto, said in University Affairs magazine that she had an excellent experience teaching using an e-textbook that she wrote for one of her graduate courses, explaining that it allowed her to integrate multi-media platforms into her course, including videos and drag and drop exercises.
“It’s a completely different way of teaching from lecturing and having people go and do readings and write reports,” she said. “The interactivity makes it a much more personal learning experience”
Chris Martin, a student at McMaster University, told University Affairs that he saw the electronic textbook as a way students could be more eco-friendly, and thought the multifaceted structure of the electronic textbook could facilitate more diverse ways of teaching.
I’ll admit that I like writing in the margins of my textbooks as much as the next student, but it seems like a small convenience compared to the prospect of not having to lug around a massive book that I paid $200 for. That being said, I predict that many of my fellow students won’t be ready to let go of them anytime soon.