The Future of E-Books in Higher Education

Recently, I read a post on Wired Campus about how students prefer print over e-books for “serious academic reading.”  Within the same week,  I read an article from Reuters about how textbook publishers are re-modeling their digital texts in an effort to fight the used book market. In that article, it was mentioned that 77 percent of students preferred print (based on a survey from the National Association of College Stores).

In my experience working at a community college library, all I can say is that there are a whole lot of students out there who don’t read their textbooks at all until it’s time to cram for the exam. And for them, it’s probably easier to cram with print since you can flip back and forth more quickly to highlight just the “important stuff.”

I’ve used both print and e-books (on my iPad) for classes. As far as readability goes, I haven’t noticed a great deal of difference. I definitely prefer highlighting text and typing in sidenotes in e-books.

Like it or not, the future of textbooks is digital. It’s all about profit for the textbook publishers and they are losing money to the used book market in a very big way right now. Bottom line, students need to get used to e-textbooks.

Digital textbooks have a couple of advantages over their print counterparts: interactivity and customizability. Interactivity can include anything from embedded quizzes to simulations to videos. If well-designed, these features enhance learning and provide valuable feedback. In some cases, instructors can even monitor student progress within the e-textbook. Better yet, digitizing textbooks allows for complete customization – basically whatever the instructor wants to throw in there. Inkling and DynamicBooks are just two companies offering that service. Add open source to the mix, and you have something that blows print out of the water.

But really, it all goes back to money. And that’s the reason why print textbooks are on their way out.

Librarians can play a big role in helping to smooth the transition to e-textbooks. First, by researching products that best fit the needs of their classroom faculty, and then by educating faculty on the benefits of those products.

At some point in the not so far future, I predict that the big textbook publishers will just stop making their textbooks available in print. Preparing for that future now will make students’ and faculty’s lives just a little bit easier.


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