Technology changes at an ever increasing rate. For thousands of years, people traveled on land by foot or by animal, traveled on water by boats powered by sails or oars, and sent messages by courier. My great-grandfather started his life in that era and by the time he died, people had landed on the moon, airplane travel was commonplace, and messages could be sent electronically by modems using the old Bulletin Board Systems.
Books have not been immune to these changes. Within the last decade, electronic books have become available in both fiction and nonfiction. As a writer, this interests me, and I begin to wonder if readers will come to expect more than just a great story and good illustrations. Debates spring up in the writing community about whether the electronic books will ever truly replace paper and ink ones, but the technology continues to grow.
According to the Horizon Report released by The New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative (2011), many of these books can have multimedia presentations embedded. Links can bring up videos, graphics, and websites. Some electronic readers even allow people to take notes in the device.
As I was leaving the public school system, there were discussions about using electronic textbooks. These could be updated more often than the paper ones, and they would take up less storage space. The cost of the reader devices proved the biggest hindrance. I worked in low socio-economic status areas, so requiring the parents to purchase the readers would not get much compliance, and with current budget concerns, the school could not purchase the readers for each student. Efforts were being made to find technology grants.
The Future of Electronic Books
The Horizon Report suggests a limitation of this technology. At the time of the report, there were not many titles for scholarly works available in electronic format (New Media Consortium & EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative, 2011). A more recent report, however, says that over 80% of the titles in two large databases are now available in electronic form (Buckley & Johnson, 2013).
Another report addresses the cost issue of electronic books. Some companies, such as the 2010 start-up Flat World Knowledge, are designing textbooks in an open source environment and giving students free online privileges or PDF download for a fee (Warren, 2010).
Other sources, such as the CK-12 Foundation, allow students to personalize the books with highlighting and notes. There are other features incorporated such as online tests, online tutor availability, data links to professional webpages, slideshows, lectures, games, videos, and podcasts (Warren, 2010).
Integrating Electronic Books
As an adult educator, I would integrate electronic books as a way to save the student money. If the course requirements included fiction, electronic books are generally cheaper than the paperback version. Even if the course did not require fiction, with open source options like Flat World Knowledge, I might be able to find a way around requiring paper textbooks depending on what is available.
Electronic books would also be handy for some of the lesson types described in our resources such as the seminar lesson described by Nilson (2010). Students could bring in the text on their electronic readers with the pertinent parts highlighted and annotated.
One concern would be the electronic reader devices themselves. When I went searching for one a few years ago, I could not get either of the two major brands. Both Kindle and Nook have interfaces that flash as the pages are turned. For students with photo-sensitive seizure disorders or migraines, that becomes a health hazard. There are workarounds, however, with non-flickering Kindle apps available for iOS and other platforms. Even the most basic iPad, however, is much more expensive than the average Kindle or Nook. With those other compatible apps and the proliferation of mobile devices mentioned in the 2011 Horizon Report, this concern might not be an issue at all within a few years.
Technology continues to advance at an increasing rate. Things that were impossible only a few years ago are becoming more likely. Although I believe that paper books will never go away entirely, I do think that electronic books will become ubiquitous in the area of education.
Buckley, M. & Johnson, M. (2013). The why’s and how’s of integrating downloadable academic books. Computers in Libraries. 33(1), 9-11, 32. Retrieved from http://www.infotoday.com/cilmag/jan13/index.shtml
The New Media Consortium, & EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative. (2011). The horizon report: 2011 edition. Retrieved from http://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/HR2011.pdf
Nilson, L. B. (2010). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (3rd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Warren, J. (2010). The progression of digital publishing: innovation and the e-volution of e-books. The International Journal of the Book.7(4), 33-55 Retrieved from http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/reprints/2010/RAND_RP1411.pdf