Books24x7 – An Essential Tool for Teaching IT Subjects
13 March 2008
I have been using the Books24x7 ITPro collection for almost 4 years now and continue to rely heavily on the content for my teaching and research. Particularly of late the electronic book collection contains significant numbers of recently published texts full of the very latest technology. In Australia I have found the response times have steadily improved and the online reading and navigation features of the site itself continue to be enhanced. I have used and continue to use Books24x7 in every class that I teach; my online subject web sites contain many links to Books24x7 texts. As each class commences I always demonstrate the features of Books24x7 and show the students this valuable resource. At the same time Books24x7 is invaluable for my software development research prototypes usually implemented with leading-edge technology well covered in the ITPro collection.
Of course having instant online access to thousands of professionally written and edited books in your own discipline is a huge benefit of all electronic book sites. Being able to search this large collection for very specific keywords allows immediate access to relevant book sections. In my case of teaching software development Books24x7 is particularly valuable for the preparation and presentation of code, script and data fragments liberally scattered through the IT texts. Being able to instantly copy (with attribution) lines of program code, scripting functions, fragments of HTML and XML and data tables makes practical software execution demonstrations very easy indeed. Sections of working executable code can be shown in class from several texts in quick succession. Yet another benefit is that the code examples are surrounded by descriptions of their function which the students can later study at their leisure.
I have been happy to continue to recommend that our university library continue with the Books24x7 subscription that allows a fixed number of simultaneous accesses across the campus. A number of my teaching colleagues and research students now use Books24x7 extensively. It has also become apparent that some of the central technical support staff make regular use in their own network management and application development work. These technical staff often are entitled to dual screens for their office workstations; this is an ideal environment for Books24x7 with the electronic books pages on one screen and the applications in use on the other. However, even with a single screen the window-switching shortcut keys can be used or the increasingly popular multiple desktop utilities that also offer single key switching between electronic book and other software.
From within a practical lab class environment the institutional subscription, however, has some downsides. In a lab class with 25 student workstations it is not possible, for example, to say ‘access section A of Books24x7 book B and use the code in Figure C as the basis of your practical work’. This typically exceeds the simultaneous use limit. The same goes for supervised online tests. Working outside of class, though, such a student exercise works with only a very occasional ‘limit exceeded’ message. It would be useful if at scheduled times each week the limit could be temporarily lifted for classes and tests. A few hours a week is all that would be needed.
We occasionally attract full-time employees of local companies to enrol in some classes as ‘non-degree students for a semester. These people gain access to Books24x7 during their studies and are always impressed. I then recommend they take out a workgroup Books24x7 subscription in their companies.
It will be hard to contemplate my professional work without Books24x7. I certainly would be very much less productive. One of the best features of all is the categorised bookshelf which allows relevant texts to be gathered into folders for easy access. The new bookshelf folder management features of Books24x7 only add to the benefits. Although my place of work subscribes to other electronic book repositories I always return to Books24x7 for the majority of my online book reading experiences. I thoroughly recommend this collection.
Acknowledgement: I would like to take this opportunity to thank Allan Richardson of netread for supporting my own access to Books24x7 and servicing the needs of our university library to provide access to the online repository.