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Time to turn the page? February 22, 2013

Posted by IaninSheffield in Musings, Reading.
Tags: , ,

cc licensed ( BY NC ND ) flickr photo by jessica @ flickr: http://flickr.com/photos/jessflickr/49361028/

Just had my interest piqued by a post from Dai Barnes (Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?) and having initiated a reply, once I reached 500 words, thought it only polite to retreat to this blog. I have to confess to several similar conversations with students as the one Dai had with his daughter; even the most tech-savvy. In some ways I am perplexed – why on Earth *wouldn’t* someone want to swap lugging several kilos of paper around for a few hundred grams of tablet?!

There are (at least) two things to consider I’d suggest:

1. Workflow. What textbook publishers have done is replicate a paper book, add some extra features that paper books don’t have (interactive content, rich media, links etc) and add the things they think a reader would need (notes, bookmarks, highlighting etc). What it appears they failed to do was observe the workflow of the average teen … or any textbook user for that matter. How do they use a paper textbook? A ‘Go to page’ feature for example will never work the same as riffling through pages and perhaps happening on something useful. Being able to add bookmarks or highlights which you can index, filter and search just isn’t the same as adding Post-Its which stick out so you can quickly return to significant sections. It’s not that these features are worse than their original counterparts; quite the contrary. It’s that they’re different and require a rather different workflow, which brings me to…

2. Expectations. The way we use a book is set at an early age when we begin to teach our youngest how to read, at home and in school. Most current teens began their reading in paper books. The skills they were taught as they moved through school were all paper book oriented: browsing, using an index or table of contents, not allowing them to make notes in the books (for the most part). When they meet digital books for the first time, they become frustrated because they simply don’t work in the same way they’ve come to learn and expect. They can’t deal with them and don’t have the time or see the need to relearn. It’s not just teens; I see the same behaviours in adults. Many love having an ebook reader for fiction or extended reading, but would be horrified at having to use one as a textbook. I remember when I started studying seriously again a few years ago and it became necessary to read vast numbers of academic papers, my first response was to print out the pdfs for later reading and annotation. It was all I knew. It didn’t take too long however before I forced myself to learn to read and work on screen, even in pre-tablet days because in the end it was so much more efficient.

Now what if our youngest were introduced to reading using digital books? What if they weren’t exposed to paper books? What if, as they became older, they were taught the skills to manage their reading digitally and to exploit the features that digital books provide. What would their reaction be when if, as a teen, they were presented with a paper textbook? We’ve all seen surely the videos of cute toddlers trying to pinch-zoom a magazine?

On the other hand what if publishers or authors revisited what a learner needs from a textbook, then threw the notion of a book out of the window and started from scratch. What would the product look like? Perhaps authors brought up in the traditional world struggle to envision anything other than the traditional page-turning format. I’m not sure what the next-generation textbook should look like, but I do know that whatever it is will probably be designed/assembled/crowd-sourced by a young person.

James Clay and Zak Mensah had quite a thorough discussion around some these issues in one of James’ e-Learning Stuff podcasts, as indeed did Fraser Speirs and Bradley Chambers in Episode 5 of Out of School.



1. Lois Lindemann (@morethanmaths) - March 3, 2013

Interesting points here Ian – many of which echo my own experiences with digital textbooks.

I’m unimpressed with what’s available in maths so far – seems to be basically the paper book, made harder to read, with a few extras tacked on. Also, the books we are using are platform specific (eg needing Flash, or Windows) but we want students who own a variety of devices to access them at home. This is a shame – these ‘books’ could be an amazing resource, but at the moment I’m finding them very frustrating.

As for PDFs – I’ve gone back to printing them out! I find reading from a computer screen very tiring. I had high hopes of using a Kindle to resolve that. It’s brilliant for anything I can add to Instapaper, but PDFs + Kindle = a scrolling nightmare. Using printed versions of PDFs & penciled notes may be a bit Luddite, but it works 🙂

2. ianinsheffield - March 4, 2013

As you say Lois, putting an ‘e’ in front of something certainly doesn’t always make it better.
ebacc anyone …?

3. Time to turn the page? | Online Pedagogy | Scoo... - May 23, 2013

[…] Just had my interest piqued by a post from Dai Barnes (Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?) and having initiated a reply, once I reached 500 words, thought it only polite to retreat to this blog. I have…  […]

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