My son, a high school 10th-grader, has been using an iPad in school regularly since 5th grade. He’s grown up in a generation of students for whom digital textbooks and computer-based learning are commonplace. And yet, he’s not sold on the idea. As we sat in a doctor’s office waiting room last week he commented to me that he prefers his teachers to assign readings from a printed text. In his view, the only pitfall of the printed text is the excess weight of his heavy backpack. His digital textbooks, on the other hand, are loaded onto devices that contain many, many distractions (text messages, games, etc).
At the start of each semester I present my students with the option of purchasing a digital or printed textbook. Inevitably before heading to the campus bookstore a student will ask which format is “better.” My typical answer is that textbook format is a personal choice based on a variety of factors. For community college students, cost is always tops the pros and cons list. It is difficult for me to counter the argument that their need to afford textbooks for five classes necessitates choosing the least expensive options. Nonetheless, when I am asked by a student for advice about digital v. print textbooks, here are some of the questions -- in addition to cost -- that I suggest they consider:
- Do you have regular access to a reliable laptop/computer/tablet and WiFi? If the answer is no, I suggest that they think realistically about when/how they will access an eBook. If the campus library is several bus stops away and only open when they are working their own part-time job, for example, the print text might make more sense.
- What will you be using the textbook for? In my classes, for example, students are allowed to use the textbook to complete open-book online quizzes and assignments. I suggest that they consider how they will manage such tasks with an eBook. Some students are able to use their own device with a desktop system in the college computing, which works very well. For others, moving back and forth on one device between an eBook and an online assignment can be more difficult depending on their comfort level with the learning management system.
- Have you talked to other students? Every semester I have students in my classes who willingly provide feedback to their classmates as to any challenges they had with either print or the eBooks in the past. I find that students generally value their classmates’ perspectives. I have even had students planning to use the eBook decide, in addition, to share one purchased copy of the printed text with a classmate.
- Have you utilized the college library’s resources? I place a copy of each of course textbook on 2-hour reserve in the college library so that it is always accessible. I make sure the students are aware of this option as a safe alternative if they are struggling for any reason with computer access and/or the eBook, have misplaced their print copy, or simply want to try both options before making an economic commitment to one or the other.
I emphasize to students that textbook purchasing is not a one-size-fits-all experience. Helping our students understand which format will work best with their homework schedules and learning styles in an important component of our teaching. As we prepare this month to order textbooks for the spring semester I’m working with our campus bookstore to make sure students have choices and flexibility in the process.