Since the release of the Amazon Kindle in 2007, e-readers
have proliferated in the literary market. Among dozens of new products, the top
five, according to CNET, are the Kindle Touch, Kindle 2011, and the Kindle Fire
by Amazon; and the Nook Simple Touch Reader and Nook Tablet by Barnes &
Noble. In 2011, Amazon announced
that e-books have exceeded printed books in sales. Despite the surge in e-books
and e-reader technology, we would like to focus on the advantages of these
technologies for the consumer, and whether we can foresee higher education
taking advantage of them for educational purposes.
Some of the advantages for e-books and e-readers can include
the following: an e-reader may contain thousands of titles limited only by
memory capacity, takes up little room or weight, may be readable in low light,
can take advantage of screen-reader software for the visually impaired, can be
searchable by key terms, access to definitions, highlighting, bookmarking and
annotations, and last but not least, e-books are often cheaper. This is all
very fine and well, but what is the utility for college students?
What most of these e-books lack in terms of applicability to
higher education is a sophisticated level of interactivity that promotes
content exploration, and self-monitoring of the learning process. Major
educational publishers have already taken note of the rising trend in digital
publications, as well as the disparity between “traditional” e-books and
interactive texts, and are moving toward the digitization of some of their top
selling titles. However, their aim is not merely to parrot what current
e-readers offer, but to move forward and develop learning experiences that are
rich, interactive, and effective.
According to the Wall Street
Journal, two textbook publishing giants McGraw-Hill and Pearson had
invested in an interactive book developer based in San Francisco, Inkling. Inkling is set to develop McGraw-Hill’s
top 100 textbook titles, as well as Pearson’s 24 most popular MBA,
undergraduate arts and sciences titles. Other competitors in the e-textbook market are
Kno and CourseSmart.
Currently, many higher education titles are offered in an
electronic version and may also have supplemental websites hosted by the
publisher or integrated into 3rd party solutions such as Aris or MyMathLab. So how will this new wave of e-textbooks differ
from what already exists?
It seems that the main difference is that interactive
e-textbooks centralize the entire experience from the tablet interface,
although it’s important to note that many titles are also available through the
web. It’s worthwhile to consider the following features when considering their
applicability to the university educational experience. Please note that the
following is a general description about what e-textbooks offer. To find out
more about specific e-textbook providers follow the links at the end of this
Availability is a major factor in choosing an e-textbook.
E-textbooks are available on most major platforms such as the iPad, iPhone,
Android, Kindle Fire, the Web, and in the case of Kno, Facebook.
In some cases, an instructor may assign the entire textbook
or just chapters from it. This allows the instructor the flexibility to
construct a customized textbook for their course.
Navigation and searching an e-textbook varies as well, but
may be done through a thumbnail panel on a chapter-by-chapter basis. Texts may
be hyperlinked to external sources on the Web. Content within the e-textbook
can be annotated, bookmarked and highlighted.
Assessments and Study
Assessments, quizzes and study guides are part of the
e-textbook arsenal. In the case of Inkling, every chapter comes with quizzes
and self-assessments. A feature called
Scoreboard helps students to keep track of their progress. Feedback is provided
in some cases.
Audio and video integration can create a richer interactive
experience including podcasts, video, and interactive 3D models.
Social networking in Inkling, allows you to interact with
other students. Interaction can take place through the Notes feature. A student
may ask questions or comments on any page, view and follow other user’s activities
Digital publishing is shifting in relation to the
development of new technologies and the major players have noticed. The logical
question is will educators take notice as well and leverage these new
technologies into their curricula?
We hope so.
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