Do you have a smartphone, iPod/iPad, or tablet computer? Maybe you have a Kindle, Nook, or other e-reader. These devices are now being used to store and read books of all kinds – new fiction and non-fiction, classic literature, and increasingly available textbooks.
The world of publishing is changing. Amazon reportedly sold more eBooks than printed books for the first time in July 2010. The New York Times reported that when this milestone was reached, Amazon had been selling eBooks for just 33 months.
Academia has been a little slower to adopt eBooks over printed books. Inside Higher Ed presents a summary of recent surveys that indicates an increase in the adoption of eTextbooks from 2008 to 2009, but in 2009 only 3.5% of classes were using eTextbooks. A 2008 report from EDUCAUSE made several predictions and cited some of the reasons why the switch has been slower in higher education.
- Portability – File types and the ability to read eBook files on different devices were concerns that have changed significantly since 2008. Devices like the Kindle and iPad access reliable connections, provide applications for reading eBook files, and allow for portability of the files.
- Cultural acceptance – Faculty and students have to be willing to read books electronically for the switch to take place. This is changing each year as faculty and students have more experience with new technologies and own devices that make accessing eBooks easier to do.
Change is on the horizon. The JISC National eBooks Observatory Project recently studied the use of eTextbooks at 127 universities in the UK. In 2009 this group reported:
- increasing demand for eTextbooks among faculty and students, particularly through library access,
- a majority of faculty and students reported use of eBooks, and
- eTextbooks were in "high usage" as tracked by number of page views.
Libraries also have a role in making eBooks available. How would a library maintain digital copies of books? The New York Public Library's eBooks collection is a nice example and available online for you to search and review. Libraries and publishers continue to negotiate the logistics of loaning eBooks to one person at a time, for a limited time, in a traditional library model. Library eBooks may have expiration dates making them available for check out for a specific amount of time or number of checkouts.
The adoption of eTextbooks is on the rise, but there are still a few hurdles to clear.
- Making the switch from print to digital takes some time. There is something organic about a book that doesn't exist digitally. A mental shift must take place to accept the new format, as well as a learning curve with the apps and e-reader devices.
- While the physical convenience of digital formats is a plus, delivery could add distractions. Some free eBooks include ads for example.
- What if you lose your e-reader or it is damaged? If you lose one book, you will likely loose them all. Just like other types of electronic files, there is a need to have back-up or alternate access.
What can we expect?
eBook readers are more than just PDF readers. In many cases they can read PDF files, but they can also do much more. Many of the new services and features don't even require a special reader or device.
- Customization – Publishers can provide custom packages for courses mixing and matching chapters and other resources to create something for a specific course.
- Portability – You can take your textbooks with you more conveniently. Think about clinical rotations, internships, and practicum experiences. Can you imagine carrying all of those textbooks and references in printed format.
- New functionality – Emerging applications allow for sharing within a course. Elsevier's Pageburst is one example. Instructors and students can share highlighted passages, notes, etc. with each other.
- Partnerships and marketing – CourseSmart is an example of a consortium of publishers and distributers who have partnered to provide eTextbooks and related digital course materials.
- Multimedia – The evolution continues as enhanced eBooks add video, audio, and multimedia interactions to the text. Imagine an anatomy or physics book with interactive images and recordings available within the eBook interface.
Try one for free!
There are many eBooks available online now, for free. If you haven't tried one, what's stopping you? Go ahead and explore one of the sites below and try your first eBook.
- Project Gutenberg provides access to over 33,000 books in multiple formats.
- Google Books provides a wide variety of books online, as well as magazines and journals.
- FlatWorld Knowledge focuses on open, editable textbooks.
What are your thoughts about eBooks as an online student? As an online instructor? Please consider sharing your experiences, resources, and expectations here!