book collection

Decisions, decisions

Word’s out: while e-books remain popular, the regular old print book isn’t going away anytime soon. That can be only good news for college students, who nowadays often have an option to use print or e-textbooks in their classes and who have different personal preferences.

But which format is the best choice for students? Despite the trendiness and convenience of e-texts, is the e-textbook format appropriate for college learning? That’s a great question. A recent Wall Street Journal article addresses where electronic books might shine the brightest:
“Screen reading seems particularly well-suited to the kind of light entertainments that have traditionally been sold in supermarkets and airports as mass-market paperbacks.” (1)

If this is so, we know college-level reading is not “light entertainment”; in fact, college textbooks tend to be more along the lines of reference and practice guides. The material requires deep thinking, re- and re-visiting, and perhaps saving for test study and essay consideration.

That said, use of e-textbooks as well as open source material is widespread; many professors and students enjoy using e-materials, and it seems they serve their purposes. As a student, I’d wonder whether the text’s medium would impact my learning and retaining material for the class – isn’t that what it’s all about in the end? Well, according to a study in a sophomore-level Biology class, despite students’ expectations and great love for the e-text, the book’s medium actually made no discernible difference in their class performance. (2)

Given all this, my advice to students is to choose whichever book format suits your personal comfort level. My only concern with using e-textbooks as, by definition, they require intense, studious reading, is that you need somehow to actively take notes “in the margins.” Annotating your texts, or “reading with a pencil,” is a vital study strategy. If you can jot yourself notes and mark important passages easily and consistently with an e-textbook, go for it.

And happy reading, no matter which format you choose.

References and further reading:

(1) “Don’t Burn Your Books—Print Is Here to Stay,” Nicholas Carr, WSJ Online, 1/5/13.
(2) See “Technology Enhancement Tools in an Undergraduate Biology Course,” Educause Review Online, 12/10/12.
*See this interesting infographic from TeachingDegree.org: it notes that 88% of those who read e-books in one year also read print books in the same period of time.
*Finally, a notable piece pertaining to open source materials is “To Cut the Cost of College, Start with Textbooks,” Jimmy Daly, EdTech Magazine, 1/7/13.

Image via mrg.bz / missmeganbunny

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