Are eBooks the Next Big Thing?

A question often asked by faculty is “What is the next big thing in educational technology?” A great resource for finding answers to this question is the annual Horizon Report jointly published by the New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE.  Each year this report provides a section titled Technologies to Watch where educators can learn about emerging technologies projected to impact teaching and learning over the next five years.  The 2011 report features six technologies: electronic books, mobiles, augmented reality, game-based learning, gesture-based computing, and learning analytics.  Let’s take a  closer look at electronic books, which are expected to move towards mainstream adoption during this calendar year.

Electronic books or eBooks have been around for years, but cost and ease of use has prevented widespread adoption in higher education.  Recently Amazon (Kindle) and Barnes & Noble (NOOK) have dropped the price of their eReader devices to about the price of one or two textbooks (~$140).  At the same time, they have continued to improve quality of experience, making devices lighter with easier-to-read text.  They have also made it possible to read books on numerous devices, including mobile phones, PCs and Macs.  Amazon’s Kindle allows readers to highlight and take notes on any of these devices and then review their highlights and comments, as well as other readers’ shared notes, at Barnes and Noble took a separate approach for education.  They created a separate software-only product called NOOKstudy, which takes advantage of the larger screens of PCs and Macs to give students a richer experience including multimedia and built-in tools for note-taking, paper-writing and test-prepping. NOOKstudy can also integrate with Blackboard, allowing instructors to post links to specific sections of a book.  There are other eReader tools on the market such as Inkling for the iPad, which plans to have over 100 college textbook titles for Fall 2011.

During Winter Quarter 2011, I am teaching EDTC 6433: Teaching with Technology to graduate education and nursing students. Students are reading Prensky’s Teaching Digital Natives using either a Kindle or a Kindle eReader app.  Students then write reflections in their blog (example) about each chapter and comment on their experience with eReaders.  About 20% of the students are using a Kindle, while the rest are reading the book using the Kindle app on a computer or mobile device.  Student comments show they like the convenience and price of an eBook.  Some indicate they read faster and feel more organized using an eReader, while others say they do not like reading on a screen and miss making notes in the margins. Students particularly dislike not knowing exactly where they are in a book because of an inability to do tactile tasks such as grasp the remaining pages in the current chapter with thumb and index finger. There have been some technology challenges.  Kindle’s Public Hightlights feature has not worked for some chapters of this book, an error that Amazon has not been able to resolve.  Several students reported disappearing notes and crashing eReaders when using a PC.  Overall, however, the experience has been worthwhile as students know they will soon be facing questions about the use of eReaders in their own institutions.  They appreciate an opportunity to experience eReaders as learners as it will help them be informed decision makers in their own teaching environments.

Are you considering the adoption of electronic books with your students?  If so, I would be happy to visit with you and tell you more about my experiences and other available  eBook options.  You may also be interested in my students’ blogs and my collection of social bookmarks related to eReaders and eBooks.

  1. March 12, 2011 at 6:31 am

    For anyone interested in creating their own ebook in the open ePub format, I’ve shared my experiences doing so at


    • March 12, 2011 at 8:10 am

      Hi Jason,

      Thanks for sharing this. Would you be interested in cross-posting an article for about ePub publishing? I’m on the steering committee and we are always looking for great content.


  2. March 12, 2011 at 6:31 am

    I enjoy using my iPad to read all my books especially since Amazon has added where I can homage read all my higkighted stuff in my books and notes taken in each of my ebooks. Amazon is also experimenting with the loan of a book from me to you which I think has a ton of potential.

    I would love to talk more with you concerning anything ebook specific.


    • March 12, 2011 at 8:14 am

      Hi Todd,

      I also enjoy the feature that lets me post and share my notes about my reading on I haven’t tried loaning or borrowing a book yet. Have you? Let’s keep the conversation going.




  3. March 12, 2011 at 8:43 am

    Yes, I’d be happy to cross-posting my experiences with ePub as article for MacLearning. I just joined the community…How do I go about submitting an article?


    • March 13, 2011 at 2:43 pm

      Email me a link to the article you want to submit (if you want to change anything) and I’ll run it by the sub-committee. Once approved, I’ll give you directions for posting it from your profile.


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