What do students want in an e-textbook?

Technology & Learning has a great graphic in the May issue of its magazine that highlights the features that secondary students would like to see in electronic textbooks [click on image below to see larger version]. Be sure to read the whole article. The data are taken from Project Tomorrow’s latest Speak Up survey.


If you’re not a regular reader of the free Tech&Learning magazine, you should be! Here are a few other articles from the latest issue that may be of interest:

6 Responses to “What do students want in an e-textbook?”

  1. My undergraduate students absolutely hate e-books. We’ve experimented with the e-books in a few classes and has 1 out of a class of 20 say they would like the e-book again. That one student said the weight in their book bag was the primary concern. The e-books at the college level expire and such all the material won’t be referenced in the future. Some of the e-books have such onerous digital rights management printing is nearly impossible. Why would you print? In some cases you can’t mark up in anyway the chapters or highlight important passages (a common technique in preparing for exams). Personally I like e-books and paper. I use PDF’s extensively and a product called papers to manage them. However, e-books for text books isn’t there yet. The use of technology for the sake of technology is a obstructive to the learning process.

  2. Selil,

    I’d probably feel the same way in your situation. DRM is a huge problem, especially at the graduate level, where students are more inclined to keep texts as reference material for later (although I suspect that this will diminish over time as mindsets shift to a model of finding what we need electronically instead of on a book shelf). It seems many eBook models and designs simply convert analog text to electronic format without considering the opportunities a digital format can offer in terms of updates, annotations, connected information, and rich media. Troubling for me is the idea that Amazon’s Kindle is considered as a solution, because of its glaring inadequacy to provide those additional features. I love the discussion that the Tech & Learning article facilitates, because an eBook solution should absolutely begin with a needs assessment and discussion of possibilities instead of just a print-to-screen conversion of existing material. We should be looking for ways technology can transform learning, and not just transpose content.

  3. I think one of the solutions to the problem of DRM is to convince students in your classes, and colleagues, to contribute to open-source textbooks through wikibooks.org or similar websites. This also requires that you, the teacher, be a contributor. I have been in the past, and intend to be so again.

    My school uses a back-breaking 15-lb. history textbook that I find inadequate and hopelessly unfocused. Can I afford the time to write my own and publish it? No, not really (maybe I should, though). I think, though, that the textbook problem could be/should be solved with teachers writing their own books, and publishing them through lulu.com, blurb.com, or simply burning them to disk.

    What prevents us? mostly stuff like copyright on digital images, and charts/graphs maps. That stuff is expensive to add to book, but vital and necessary. How does one modify a modern world map to show the Roman Empire’s boundaries? How does one make an animation showing the growth of the empire, and its shrinkage? These are barriers to teachers writing their own textbooks, and the problems in the sciences are similarly complex.

    In the middle ages, of course, teaching was done from a manuscript book. The teacher read from it, and the students copied down what the teacher said to make their own copies. Once we had printed books, we were able as teachers and learners to spend more time on discussing, and writing. Now we have the ability to generate vast types of content — movies, animations, podcasts, textbooks — and we don’t. Not yet.

    But we should, and we will.

  4. search out dnaml.com

    interactive pdf
    based in Sydney Australia
    open fields take notes, watch video, draw, submit responses

    all in a chapterised e-book with locked chapters, so pay only for what you use.

    quite a bit more in tune with users than lulu.com

    can be read on computer(of course!), netbook, smart phone(iphone/touch) but not kindle2

  5. Secondary and Higher Ed classrooms would benefit greatly by a move from pulp bound texts to highly interactive texts based on a Kindle or like tool.

    In a TED lecture by Seth Godin (http://is.gd/yQAT) that is making the rounds currently, Godin talks about the power of the Kindle “If” it had broader capabilities. I pondered about that same thing back in 2007(http://is.gd/zPxN).

    Learning is a collaborative endeavor, regardless of educations efforts to remold it into an individual one over the decades. An e-text based on a Kindle like tool that allowed study groups to read and make annotations, comments, jot down thoughts in a “margin” would improve learning in at least a couple of ways. First, it would bring minds, thereby thoughts, together and allow for the power that is derived from an exchange of ideas. Second, it would produce an end product that would be tremendously valuable to a student when a class or course of study is completed.

    The key is that the text be accessible in it’s annotated form to each member of the group.

    These text could then have embedded links that allow the learners to jump out from the text to a discussion board to go further in depth with their study and contemplation – truly collaborative learning. Read, Annotate, Discuss, and then end up in a classroom where the mix of study groups becomes a “stone soup” of sorts. Each collaborative group bringing their unique voice to the larger conversation.

    The key is profitability. Textbook companies will decry the copyright issue – not out of integrity, but out of a need to secure profits. So what is the solution? The idea is waiting to blossom … I guess you have to convince someone that it can be profitable.

  6. I enjoyed your post and the article, but am commenting because I have been reading a entry on Miguel Guhlin’s blog about attributing and linking back. You do a great of attributing, linking back, and encouraging readers to read the entire article. Good role model.

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