by Dede Paquette
Get ready! The digital revolution is about to change the relationship between college students and their beloved textbooks. Not only are more students downloading digital e-books for laptops and e-readers, but more colleges are requiring students to use digital materials in their classes. Concordia University in Mequon, for example, is now requiring students in the Elementary Education program to purchase an iPad so they can download their resources.
Pressure to use digital texts is coming from all sides, yet a survey conducted by the Student Public Interest Research Group in 2010 found that only about 25 percent of students surveyed preferred digital texts. A full 75 percent wanted to keep their bulky paper books. Concerns about e-books ranged from the cost, to convenience, to accessibility.
What about the cost?
Using e-books can save students money. With some single print books costing more than $100, students can spend $500 or more per semester on textbooks. “E-books can save students an average of 40 percent on the new book price,” said Whitney Baumgard, manager of the Mount Mary College bookstore.
She reported that students are now taking advantage of the bookstore’s offering of NookStudy e-book downloads for PC or Mac. But, “within the next few weeks, students will be able to buy the Nook e-readers in the bookstore.” Baumgard said that the Nook Simple Touch Reader will sell for $139, and the updated Nook Color will sell for $249.
What about the convenience of using digital texts?
E-books do have some advantages over print versions. Keith Nerby, doctoral candidate at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, has been downloading Kindle versions of his required texts to his iPad since beginning the Ph.D. program more than a year ago.
“I like to lug all my documents around with me,” he said. “My iPad is small, lightweight and convenient.”
He feels that using electronic versions of his texts has enhanced his study ability.
“I can highlight in the screen, just like with a highlighter on a regular book, and I get words defined for me.” He is referring to the word lookup feature of e-books. Simply click on an unfamiliar word a definition pops up on the screen.
Nerby said he also makes good use of the notes feature, adding his own notes to the highlighted passages. “I don’t have books full of tabs or notes anymore,” he said.
Nerby said his favorite feature of e-books is the ability to upload the passages he highlighted and noted to the Kindle website.
“Even if I happen to forget some documents, I can still access my notes from the website from anywhere,” he said.
But, e-books do have some disadvantages compared to their paper cousins. Kristen Fromm, a student in the elementary education program at Concordia University, found that using e-books was more unpredictable than traditional texts.
“Like all technology, there are quirks that may not let them run properly, like Internet issues, or just items not opening up for unknown reasons,” she said.
Unlike Nerby, Fromm found the highlighting feature difficult. “You definitely have a harder time highlighting and writing notes next to items you might find useful,” she said.
Are e-readers and e-books accessible?
Battery life can be a problem for users of e-readers. Overlooking that chore could cause the reader to fail at a crucial moment. And one more concern is that all books do not come in e-versions. More obscure authors or titles may not be available for a specific reader, or they may not be available in e-format at all.
Nerby estimates that “just under half” of all the texts he has been required to buy have been available in e-format.
Will there still be a choice?
In spite of these disadvantages, students and faculty are finding the benefits of this technology.
“We discovered we could have students buy an iPad for the same cost of the textbooks for the five methods courses,” said Nicole Muth, professor of elementary education at Concordia, where iPads are required.
Muth explained that each professor in the program was responsible for finding resources through the library system that would fit his or her courses.
“This has enabled us to use current research on best practices in teaching elementary math, science, social studies, and language arts and frequently update our courses to include current trends in each discipline,” Muth said. She also explained that the program has the added benefit of assuring that in getting comfortable with the iPad features, all students who go through the program have current technology skills required by the National Educational Technology Standards.
So, whether you’re ready to dive into those rapidly swirling digital waters or not, it may be time to take the plunge.