Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Back to School Blog Month: College Students and eBooks

Some of the previous blog entries this month have talked about the influx of technology into the classroom, particularly in the K-12 years. This got me thinking about the students I work with: college students at one of the massively huge universities in California (undergraduate student body 30k+). I see students taking notes in my class on computers, iPads, cell phones (not that I like this method!), and thought I’d sample my students to see how ebooks, particularly etextbooks, are making it in the college campus world. (My scientist side has to add that this poll was totally unscientific, really basic, and has some serious sampling issues, but what I learned was certainly interesting!)

So, in my classes I asked my students (mostly Juniors around age 21 or so) if they’d please answer five short questions for me, mostly looking at their use of electronic format textbooks. It’s right at the beginning of the quarter for us and everyone is fresh from the bookstore. So here’s what I found:

Question #1: Have you ever purchased an electronic format textbook? Number of times?
Pie charts just make me happy!
>Of the 44 students who were kind enough to answer my questions, 80% of them had never purchased an e-textbook. Of those who had purchased one, 11% had done so once, and 9% more than once. So, the world of paper textbooks is still pretty dominant. (I asked if they’d purchased other ebooks and was told they’d downloaded the ‘old’ free ones a few times.)

Question #2: Do you have an e-reader (other than your computer) to read an e-book on? Brand?
> Keep in mind that computers are required for all students here, so they do have access to the online reading formats that are available from B&N and Kindle. But other than that? eReaders haven’t made a big impact on these students, with 80% again saying they didn’t have a device to read an ebook on. Those who did have e-readers noted they had a kindle, or were reading on their phones. Two had iPads. (With all the crazy marketing toward the students to get this kind of technology, I was pretty shocked at this!)

Question #3: Would you ever purchase an e-textbook? Why or why not?
>The answers I got to this question were varied. About 29% of the students said they would never buy this kind of textbook, for a myriad of reasons. My favorite was because reading electronically would make it too easy to be distracted by the web (facebook was mentioned by a few students—wow can I identify with that!). Others noted that they didn’t like reading on screen because it was tiring, or that it wasn’t as easy to take notes (they clearly haven’t seen the new apps to do this—it’s so much easier!). Tactile reasons were also often noted.

That being said, many of the students were open to buying etextbooks, the main reasoning noted was the price. They’re cheaper! For a bunch of kids, especially those not funded by their parents, this makes a lot of sense. Other students also noted that ebooks are easier to carry around, save trees, and allow you to have the book on you at all times, plus they have search functions. (These are all reasons I love etextbooks!)

Question #4: Do you know of other people making use of e-textbooks? Would you say it’s common?
>This question’s kind of vague, but I wanted to see if I could get a better sense of things from the networks the students are in J. The answers ranged across the board, but there was an even split between people knowing others who purchase and use etextbooks, and those who don’t. For the most part, though, most everyone felt that this was a pretty uncommon tool on campus, though a few noted the increasing trend to illegally download them. One person, who works in the bookstore, also noted that she only sees about one in 50 book purchases come in the form of electronic format. Hmm. Interesting.

Question #5: Do you think this format will become more or less popular on campuses?
>93% of the students thought ebooks will become more popular in the future. Other than the few students who were less optimistic (I had a few “I hope not” answers to this question!), people see this as the way technology is heading. It’s greener. It’s easier. It makes it less likely to lose/damage expensive paper books.

So, that’s my report from the college classroom! For the most part, college students aren’t making a lot of use of etextbooks. Yet. This will surely change as the technology gets better and more books become available. There will always be students who still like paper though, and learn more effectively from it, so I doubt the heavy chemistry texts I see so many kids carrying around will completely disappear!

Come catch me at my blog for links to contests, book reviews, and news about my forthcoming MuseItUp release! ~Meradeth Houston

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