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University Gazette

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Electronic textbooks influence pedagogy

Is this the year of the electronic textbook?

In general, no, said Bob Henshaw, instructional technology consultant in the Center for Faculty Excellence, as he opened the March 16 Faculty Council discussion on the changing landscape of textbooks.

Henshaw, who moderated the five-person panel discussion, kicked off the conversation with two seemingly contradictory statements. Overall, there is no significant movement toward electronic textbooks at Carolina; however, students interact with content visually and bring more electronic devices to campus each semester.

Panelist Jean DeSaix, senior lecturer in biology and an e-textbook user for several years, said the most pressing issue was figuring out the challenges and opportunities e-textbooks present.

An e-textbook resembles a print textbook, but resides on the publisher’s website and requires users to purchase a time-limited access code. Unlike its hard-copy counterpart, there is nothing to sell back at semester’s end. And unlike a scanned PDF that’s posted online, an e-textbook is dynamic.

DeSaix said she liked the e-book’s annotation possibilities, the search function, the way that students can see additional information online and the opportunity to interact with students. But the tricky part is helping students know what works best for them. “E-books are not the be all, end all for everyone,” she said.

Kelly Hanner, course materials manager for Student Stores, said Carolina’s bookstore was one of the first university student stores to make e-textbooks available. Sales have increased since 2008, but there still is not a tremendous interest from the students, she said.

Zealan Hoover, student body vice president, presented the student perspective. “Affordability often trumps pedagogy when it comes to something like this,” he said.

He pointed out several issues that make students reluctant to embrace e-textbooks, including problems with transferability, permanence, retrieving specific material and making notes directly in the book.

Hidden costs are also an issue, he said. For example, some students prefer to read information on paper and are paying to print the material in addition to accessing it online.

“Students here are conservative when it comes to change, which surprises some people,” Hoover said.

In terms of learning, a digital version of what’s in print is least effective, said Sandi Kirshner from Pearson Publishing. But she stressed that technology can be effective in enhancing learning, and she believes that widespread adoption of devices like the tablet and smart phone will propel the use of e-books. In fact, current K–12 students, with their dependence on devices, are likely to be more comfortable with e-books than current college students are, Kirshner said.

Luke Swindler, coordinator of general collections for the University Libraries, said that e-books still are a relatively small niche. As the University community prepares for a transition to electronic textbooks, he advised faculty members to become involved in the issues and remain informed.

For additional information about issues surrounding electronic textbooks, see go.unc.edu/f2B5R.