Evolving Student Attitude to Ebooks

For the first time in the core subject called Knowledge and Society I taught this year we used an ebook purchased online for the prescribed textbook. This etextbook was a customised compilation of 14 chapters chosen from suitable printed texts published by Cengage Learning. It was possible for the students to purchase the whole ebook (at about half the price of a single printed textbook) or by the individual chapter.

Cengage published the etextbook using the VitalSource ebook publishing system. This allows the purchased etextbook to be accessed everywhere on the web from a wide range of browsers and downloaded to computers, smartphones and tablets for offline access at any time. Notes and annotations can be made and shared via the web on up to 2 desktops/laptops and 2 mobile devices per student.

Ebooks are one of the topics in the Knowledge and Society subject curriculum and I took the opportunity via a question in the mid-semester written exam to determine the students’ reaction to the personal use of an etextbook for learning. Students were asked to list advantages and disadvantages of using the etextbook when studying for the exam. From 164 scripts students mentioned 14 advantages and 15 disadvantages (my classifications) with 533 occurrences in total.

The advantages were:

2011-10-11 SNAG-00

Personally I always rate the ability to search within an ebook as the main advantage, so I was surprised to see reading on multiple devices and no extra weight to carry around coming out on top. Environmental responsibility is always up there. Being able to buy the ebook by the chapter is obviously a very minor consideration.

Against this the disadvantages seemed more numerous:

2011-10-11 SNAG-01

In the past eye strain has always been the top disadvantage so it is strange to see it eclipsed by the need to own and use a working device. The survey of the same students revealed they owned a plethora of devices so the attitude is doubly strange. It is still the case that 1 in 6 students simply prefer printed books. At least bemoaning that ebooks have no second hand value is in decline.

With 313 advantage occurrences as against 220 disadvantages I make the assumption that the class are split approximately 59% to 41% in favour of ebooks. This then allows comparison with similar ebook data from previous years reported in a past post:

2011-10-11 SNAG-03

From this data it is clear that ebooks have lost a little ground over the last 12 months at least in the minds of these students. This is obviously against the trend of the ebook industry as a whole. As an institution we have some more educating to do in convincing our students that ebooks are the way forward.


About Michael Rees
Academic in IT interested in Web 2.0 and social media

One Response to Evolving Student Attitude to Ebooks

  1. Arjen Lentz says:

    It appears you’re using eBooks on laptops or tablets, then? I conclude this because of the notes about windows switching and eye strain.
    While having eBooks (also) accessible on those devices makes sense, I believe their primary medium would/should be an eInk device.

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