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Old 06-11-2009, 04:28 PM   #1
NatCh
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Post E-Textbooks: Lessons Learned From Northwest Missouri State University

Earlier this year MobileReader TeamCA pointed out an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education about Northwest Missouri State University's experiments with e-textbooks.

Well that University is in that publication again, apparently Amazon's recent comments about their own planned experiments with e-textbooks has prompted the University to share some of their insights for any university considering electronic textbooks.

In a nutshell:
  1. "Judge e-books by their covers. No, not their jacket art, but the device and software used to display them."
  2. "Learning curves ahead." Different study skills are needed to study with digital books.
  3. "Professors are eager students." The professors are often as interested in new tools as the students are. Sometimes more so.
  4. "Long live batteries." Long battery life is absolutely essential to the usability of devices for e-textbooks.
  5. "Subjects are not equally e-friendly." Some subjects seem to lend themselves better to digitization than others.
  6. "Environmental impact matters." That is to say many are perceiving e-books' lower impact on trees to be a very valuable factor.

Have a look at the full article for the full details of their conclusions.

The fact that this was printed in the Chronicle of Higher Education means that it's pretty well targeted for educators to see and have their thinking on the matter of e-textbooks influenced. How do you think that Northwest Missouri State University's perspective is likely to impact the move toward e-textbooks? Whatever that move may be, of course.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:04 PM   #2
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Seems you need an account access the linked article. But sounds interesting...
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:13 PM   #3
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I'd like to know about the 'different study skills' that are needed (#2, above).

Just got my Kindle DX and am loving it. I have lots of PDFs, so it's going to be a wonderful, but I am thinking that on books and articles that are ones I want a lot of notes on will need more than the built-in highlight and notetaking features.

Back to old-school notes on index cards or in notebooks?

(Like rgeorg, I can't access the article.)
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:32 PM   #4
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That's strange ... I don't think I have an account.

I'll post the full points individually.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:32 PM   #5
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First one:
Quote:
1. Judge e-books by their covers. No, not their jacket art, but the device and software used to display them. Those wrappings are key to satisfaction when it comes to electronic textbooks, since the choice of reading device determines whether students can highlight material or easily flip the pages (things they take for granted with printed copies). E-books come in many shapes and sizes — some electronic books work on laptops or desktop computers, others are formatted for Kindles or other machines designed just for e-books.

The university started out last fall by handing out Sony's Reader devices loaded with textbooks published by McGraw-Hill to about 240 students. The project used the original model of the Sony Reader, which students found difficult to operate. "It was hard to even find where you were supposed to be in those things," said Thomas M. Spencer, an associate professor of history. Worse, the e-book wasn't numbered the same way as the printed edition, so it was hard for everyone to get on the same page.

So in the spring, the university switched to a format that can be read on a laptop or desktop PC, using software called VitalSource. Even so, a large number of the students longed for the good old printed book. Nearly 40 percent of the participants surveyed in March agreed that "I study less because the e-textbook makes studying more difficult."

Not everyone was that negative. About 17 percent said they studied more because it was easier. Paul Klute, who coordinates the university's e-textbook experiments, predicts that satisfaction will improve as the books do.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:32 PM   #6
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2. Learning curves ahead. Tania Brobst, a junior at the university, is proud of the note-taking techniques she's developed over the years. She crafts typed study guides for each of her courses, and she carefully highlights material in her printed textbooks.

When she ended up in a marketing course this spring that required her to use a digital textbook, she had to adapt her strategies. "It took some experimenting on my part," she said. "I mean, you can easily read it, but if you want to highlight or enlarge the text or share your notes with other people," you have to learn to do that. Initially skeptical, she now says she prefers the electronic version in part because of its search feature and the ability to paste passages into a Microsoft Word document.

Other students reported an adjustment period as well. "I didn't realize how many applications there were on the e-textbook," wrote one student in the university's survey. "The more I have used it, the more I have discovered what I can do with it."

As Darren Finney, a freshman, told me in the student union: "They should have a week in class where they explain how to use it."
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:33 PM   #7
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3. Professors are eager students. Faculty members are known to be reluctant to change their teaching approaches. So the original goal was to rope five or six professors into volunteering for the spring experiment. But 54 professors said they wanted in. "Some of them were so passionate about it that they actually sent me petitions," said Mr. Hubbard, clearly pleased by the interest. "They got all of the faculty in the department to sign it and say, You've got to do us."

The professors said they wanted to try something new, and argued that the experience would help students. "In my courses we talk about preparing for the future just about every single day," said Allison Strong, a marketing instructor who taught from an e-book this spring. "This is one thing they can do to learn to adapt to change."
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:33 PM   #8
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4. Long live batteries. The technical difficulty that came up the most in my interviews with students was battery life. Students said they sometimes forgot to charge their laptops overnight, so they had to find a spot in the lecture hall to plug in if they wanted to use their books in class. Other students said they had several classes in a row and inevitably ran out of juice. "It's harder to take your computer everywhere than a book, I think, because you have to carry the power cord and all," said Sara Herrera, a freshman whose laptop's battery typically lasts only about an hour and a half.

Sure, printed books are heavy, but when was the last time one went blank for lack of power?

Sony's Reader and Amazon's Kindle boast longer battery lives than laptops, so longevity is an advantage of those gadgets.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:33 PM   #9
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5. Subjects are not equally e-friendly. Kevin Green, a junior, loved the e-book required in his business-marketing class this spring. "But if it was an accounting course," he said, "I would kind of want a printed textbook because it's got all the numbers" and equations that would be harder to manage electronically.

His instructor, Michael J. Wilson, an associate professor of accounting, economics, and finance, said the one problem they had with the e-book in the marketing course was when students needed to refer to a dense table of numbers in the back. He demonstrated for me, noting a pop-up window with a font that was almost illegible. "You can kind of expand them, but it's not as easy as it could be."

At least laptops can display color. E-reading devices handle only black and white. That's a major handicap for science or medical books that rely on illustrations.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:34 PM   #10
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And the sixth:
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6. Environmental impact matters. Ms. Brobst said she would now choose e-books over printed ones, not because she thought they were better but because they save trees.

"I realize how it's going to affect the environment," she said. "It's going to benefit everyone in the end."

A few comments in the university's surveys echoed that sentiment, and administrators said they were surprised at the degree to which such consciousness affected students's opinions.
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Old 06-11-2009, 05:36 PM   #11
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And just for fun, here's the tag -- the conclusion of the university's president, Dean L. Hubbard (a Kindle-phile, as it happens):
Quote:
[Mr. Hubbard] compares the idea of e-textbooks to the practice of putting a convenience store in a gas station. Soon after the first such quick-marts popped up, just about every gas station had one. When companies develop user-friendly books and readers, he said, campus adoption is "going to come fast."
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Old 06-11-2009, 06:04 PM   #12
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Thanks! That does help, though I wish for #2 that they had gone into more detail.

(Just discovered that for some PDFs at least, the DX won't let me highlight or make notes. Oh, the irony that my newest tech requires me to pull out my oldest (fountain pens and paper).
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Old 06-11-2009, 06:13 PM   #13
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This link may work (back door via Goggling the title and author).
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Old 06-11-2009, 08:33 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by NatCh View Post
So in the spring, the university switched to a format that can be read on a laptop or desktop PC, using software called VitalSource. Even so, a large number of the students longed for the good old printed book. Nearly 40 percent of the participants surveyed in March agreed that "I study less because the e-textbook makes studying more difficult."
That is not too surprising. The current eReaders out are really optimized for reading straight through a book, not flipping back and forth quickly or searching for information. While it could be cheaper to have an eBook there is something lost from not having an actual textbook when it comes to studying. Until a screen like Pixel Qi comes out (and is tested to work effectively) reading long passages of boring material will be 10x as bad with the backlight making your eyes droopy I'd stick with a regular textbook at least until Pixel Qi or Plastic Logic make their debut
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Old 06-12-2009, 12:23 AM   #15
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Not to be repetitive, but I posted the below comments over on Teleread a few days ago. Since the topic is getting more response over here, I thought I'd reiterate.
-----

It looks to me like this was a study destined to fail. For academic purposes a larger screen, easier non-linear navigation, annotation capabilities and some way to share or collaborate are needed. Also, for many classes, color is needed. A dictionary lookup feature would be sorely missed as well.

This is not pleasure reading of strictly fiction. This is academic use, which has greater requirements.
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