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Are eBooks the Next Big Thing?

March 8, 2011 6 comments

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 https://kindle.amazon.com. 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.

iTunes U now supports ePub documents

November 11, 2010 Leave a comment

This video demonstrates how you can download free ePub eBooks on your iPad. The eBooks can be read using the iBooks app.

Can an iPad replace textbooks?

April 4, 2010 2 comments

Dear iPad Owners,

I hope you had a great first day with your new purchase. Did you stay up late last night reading a novel?  Was it sitting there on your night stand, tuned to your favorite newspaper when you woke up this morning? Any chance there is a “Make Coffee” app?

Okay, I must admit that I am a little jealous of  you.  Given all the negative press, it was a bold move to stand in line at the Apple Store or at your front door waiting for the UPS guy.  I was tempted to join you but kept telling myself I must resist… No camera… Price needs to be lower… Is the Apple Store still open?… No 3G yet (forget 3G, I’m waiting for 4G)… Too many proprietary peripherals… Are there any left?… Just a big iPhone… No multitasking… Where are my car keys?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/glennf/4309829213/

Well, I made it through my first full day without buying an iPad.  Good for my bank account but not so good for my mind as it is racing with lots of questions for you.  As an instructional technologist, my first questions revolve around how the iPad can benefit education.  Specifically, I am interested in the iPad’s ability to replace textbooks.  What are your first impressions about the iPad’s ability to address major issues other eReaders have encountered when attempting to replace traditional texts?

(I am expanding on three issues Weili Dai raised in a recent eSchoolNews article.)

  1. Currency – Will it be easy to update an eText, allowing content to maintain currency? How will readers know if an an update has been made?
  2. Cost – Will eTexts be reasonably priced? Are open texts and existing PDF-formatted articles easy to access?
  3. Weight – Do you quickly get tired holding the iPad in common reading positions?
  4. Reliability – Does the eReader app respond in a consistent manner during common electronic reading activities? (e.g. turning pages, jumping to the table of contents, searching for key words, looking up definitions)
  5. Notes-worthy – How easy is it to take notes? Are there options to embed notes within texts or export notes to a word processing document?
  6. Accessibility – Can a text be read to you? Are there  learning disabilities affordances such as highlighting words or groups of words as they are being read? How easy is it to change font sizes? Are there options for users with limited use of their fingers?

Well that’s all for now.  Hopefully you can respond to this message using WordPress’s new iPad app.  I appreciate any help you can provide as I wait for the perfect tablet computing device… Do you think BestBuy has any left?

Thanks,

David

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Time for ebooks in the classroom?

June 14, 2009 2 comments

Six Lessons One Campus Learned About E-Textbooks
Is it time to switch to ebooks? Not quite yet, according to Chronicle writer Jeffrey R. Young after he visited with Northwest Missouri State University faculty and students about their venture into the world of e-textbooks.  NWMSU has been a leader in student communication technologies since the days of OTPDR (That’s one-terminal-per-dorm-room for those of you who have trouble remembering the great acronyms of the past).
Young shares six lessons he learned about the current state of ebooks in the classroom.  Here are my thoughts on each of his points.

  1. Judge ebooks by their covers – All ebooks reading software is not created equal.  Sony’s ebook reader is different than Amazon’s Kindle.  There are lots of ebook reader options for laptops.  Publishers have even created proprietary readers that work within an LMS (Blackboard, Moodle, etc.)  The point here is that with this many options, you will need to do your research, and  try before buying where possible.
  2. Learning curves ahead – Students have had years of practice learning how to learn from paper-based textbooks. Institutions should offer training as part of any e-textbook initiative.
  3. Professors are eager students – This may be puzzling to some but I’ve always been able to find professors eager to experiment with a new technology IF (and this is an important “if”) they can envision how it might be meaningful to teaching/learning.
  4. Dead batteries – Hopefully this problem that will go away as better battery technologies are developed. For now, we need to make sure that there enough power outlets in classrooms and learning centers (and hopefully not just on the back wall.)
  5. Subjects are not equally e-friendly – Some disciplines may be better suited to e-textbooks than others. I’m not sure that I agree with this statement, especially if we leave out Amazon and Sony, and just talk about the use of a laptop or iPhone (both support color) as the ebook reading device.  Both would allow students to zoom in and query images for more information.  Think about the possibilities with a subject like Geography.  Maps within a paper textbook are static while ebook maps can be dynamic, allowing students to ask how borders or populations have changed over time. The result may be customized maps that help students understand current political issues.
  6. Environmental impact matters – Saving trees is an important consideration but a move to e-textbooks could ultimately reduce the cost (and amount of fuel used) to provide textbooks to students in developing countries.  Textbooks are already expensive. Add the cost of shipping overseas and the price may double.  Instead, these students could be outfitted with multi-use resources (laptop or smartphone) to access up-to-date content. Easy access to electricity is a major issue but one that can be eased with longer battery life.

While I don’t believe it is time to make wholesale changes to e-textbooks, it is time to begin experimenting with ebooks in individual courses and programs. What do you think?
(delicious tags: Education technology textbook academic college kindle ebooks)

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