I feel like we're stuck somedays with two very different stories about the future of digital textbooks and students. On one hand, we have the predictions from Xplana that say that e-books are at the "tipping point" and within the next few years, a quarter of textbooks will be digital. On the other hand, we have the studies that suggest that most students still prefer print.

Who cares what students think anyway, right? (Ok, I threw that in there just for a friendly jab at those awesome folks over at Hack Library School -- really, let's please care about what students think.)

But here's a new study, set to appear in the Information Technology and Libraries journal, that takes another look at just what students are thinking and doing (and reading and buying) when it comes to e-books and e-readers. The study was authored by Nancy Foasber, Humanities Librarian at Queens College, CUNY and was based on a survey of students there. The survey aimed to assess whether students are using e-readers, whether they want to be using e-readers, and whether they have an interest in borrowing e-books from their library.

Of the students who responded, only 3.3% said they use dedicated e-readers. A much greater percentage -- 23.4% -- said they read e-books, however. The majority of the students said they had no plans to buy an e-reader, but 23% said they planned to do so within the next year or before they graduate.

Fewer than half the e-reader users in the study used the device for two thirds of their reading or more. And when they described the type of reading, they indicated it was primarily recreational, and not academic reading, that they were doing via e-books.

Students did list what they saw as the benefits of e-books and e-readers -- portability and convenience, for example. Interestingly "special features" (like text-to-speech) didn't rank highly as a desirable or important feature to them.

The students indicated they felt cost was an obstacle to their acquiring and using e-readers and e-books. The students did say they'd like to be able to check out e-books and e-readers from the library, and interestingly the study found they were more interested in checking out pre-loaded e-readers than being able to download and use e-books on their own devices.

It's worth pointing out, of course, that this study was conducted in April and May of last year, and while the iPad had been announced, it wasn't yet in students' hands. As Xplana noted when it revised its predictions about e-books, the iPad has dramatically changed the landscape for digital books. The question is: does the iPad make students want dedicated e-readers more or less?

You can read the full study here (PDF)

Audrey Watters


Hack Education

The History of the Future of Education Technology

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