Are e-books the future? While this question has certainly been looked at in the past, the fact that Athabasca is considering bringing in an e-book option for online courses makes the issue again pertinent. For one of my current courses I was invited to participate in an Athabasca University trial project for use of e-books. I would be given access to the normal textbooks like most students but, in addition, I would have a pdf edition available for use.
About a week into the course I was sent a link using Dropbox which contained a folder containing a PDF for each chapter. One of the first things I was wondering before getting the PDF was if the text was searchable and highlight-able. Having used the Athabasca online library I was annoyed with some of the PDF files which are simply photos of pages with no text data. As it turns out all the text within the e-book is both searchable and highlight-able.
For the first two months I found myself most often using the physical textbook. It’s not because I think physical textbooks are better, but simply out of habit. Though the physical textbook certainly had its advantages. One of those advantages being the simplicity of opening the book to your bookmark with no need for technical issues.
About two months into the course I ended up replacing my tablet for a new improved Samsung tablet. Like any techie with a new toy, I proceeded to use it as much as possible. Being in Australia at the time, I often found myself reading while sitting in a hammock with my tablet. The slim tablet was much more comfortable in the hammock, as well as several other situations, so I found the amount of time I spent reading was increasing.
While a large textbook is nice for diagrams and pictures, it ends up being impractical to carry around at all times. An 8-inch tablet, on the other hand, is easy to carry around and can be used for multiple purposes. If I found myself with some time to kill I could just take out the tablet and read a chapter.
As mentioned previously, all the text within the e-book is both highlight-able and searchable. In the past I often found myself searching page after page for something I’d read. On the tablet I could just do a search for a phrase and find the page in seconds. Then, once I found the reference, I could then easily copy and paste if I wanted to quote it. I used Dropbox to sync my essays between my tablet and computer so any changes would update across both.
Within a few weeks of starting to use my tablet my physical textbook was beginning to gather dust. Being in Australia at the time, I found myself making the tough decision of donating my bulky textbook to a hostel bookshelf in Cairns, Australia.
So should Athabasca University embrace e-books? I love receiving my physical books in the mail with each new AU class. So if making e-books available isn’t introduced as just a way for the university to cut physical books I’m all for it. There are so many things you can do with e-books that aren’t possible with traditional text.
Philip Kirkbride is an AU student with a penchant for travelling the globe while doing his AU courses.