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While students are becoming accustomed to using the Internet as an information source that supplements or replaces the normal institutional and classroom handouts, the use of the Internet or CD instead of a printed textbook is a new experience not only for students but also academics and their institutions. This article describes the experience of constructing, publishing, prescribing and using an online textbook for a postgraduate course. The experience provides valuable insights that suggest the need for changes to e-communications facilities in homes, offices and learning institutions, to students' expectations, and the need to improve purchasing interfaces and text displays before electronic textbooks can be readily accepted as an alternative learning medium.
The readability of e-books has been discussed in a number of other papers (Armatas, 2003; Hartley, 2002; Thurstun, 2000) where the authors cover issues such as students' preference for using print material because of its portability, because they could annotate it and because Internet access was not easy and convenient. One survey points to research showing there is a 50:50 split between users who prefer to read from paper and those who will read on screen.
The publisher has electronic files with the contents of recent books, and can place these files on a secure password protected site on the Internet. In our case the files for the e-book are stored on the publisher's site and students are invited to use electronic payment to buy access to the e-book. The files are in a proprietary system, ebrary", that was devised to read PDF (portable document format) files and is funded and used by three large international book publishers. The text is presented in the same format as in the corresponding printed editions.
Because the facility had not been tried in Australia, the publishers burned copies of the e-book's files onto CDs as a fallback strategy in the event that students found Internet access to the e-book difficult.
At the time of purchasing the viewing rights, a student is presented with two access choices:
A major advantage of the downloading option is that there is only one download of the e-book files. The downside is that access is from one machine only. The Downloading option was not workable at the University because the regular cleanup process deletes downloaded student files. Files could not be successfully transferred to USB data sticks. Students who use computers at their workplace face similar problems with this option, but downloading is possible at private homes with Internet access.
The attrition following the first lecture is explained by factors other than the e-book. Commonly our postgraduate students visit a number of courses during the first week of a semester in order to find out more about the courses before finally enrolling. Although the number deciding not to continue was more than normally experienced, albeit only marginally higher than in previous semesters, informal feedback from those who chose to withdraw indicated that while some did withdraw as a result of perceived difficulties with the e-book, most did so for other reasons.
|Question||Frequency of students' responses|
|For me, gaining access to a computer for my study was . .||difficult||neutral||easy|
|Before I began this course I found web surfing and e-mailing was . . . .||difficult||neutral||easy|
|Finding the material I wanted on the web site was . . .||difficult||neutral||easy|
|Finding the material I wanted on the e-book was . . . .||difficult||neutral||easy|
|Reading the electronic screen that displayed the e-book was . . . .||difficult||neutral||easy|
|Displaying new screens on the web site and turning the pages of the e-book was . . .||slow||neutral||fast|
|At the beginning of this course, how did you expect the e-book would suit your study style?||with dif-|
|How much of the e-book did you print to paper?||0%||25%||50%||75%||100%|
|In future, when deciding whether to enrol in a course that has instructions and content available on the web, I will be .||reluctant||neutral||keen|
|In future, when deciding whether to enrol in a course that uses an e-book, I will be . . .||reluctant||neutral||keen|
Inspection of Table 1 shows that, overall, students felt competent when moving around the web but expected to be less at ease moving around the e-book. Because in previous classes for this course students have read many journal articles on electronic screens via our Library, we attribute this group's reluctance to their lack of previous exposure to large blocks of electronic reading and their apprehension in meeting the challenge of coping in an online learning environment.
Their indifferent ratings of page turning, searching and screen reading tools on screen indicate shortcomings in the interface program used.
At the beginning of the course students' perceptions about the e-book were balanced between difficult and easy. By the end of the course these perceptions had shifted, but only slightly, towards a reluctance to use another e-book. Nevertheless it is encouraging to note that one third of the students expressed a keenness to be exposed to an e-book again while about 20% were neutral about this. Of course, interpretation of the findings must be tempered by the limitation of the small sample size.
Ardito, S. (2000). Electronic books: To "E" or not to "E"; that is the question. Searcher, 8(4), 1-12.
Hartley, J. (2002). Is judging text on screen different from judging text in print? A naturalistic e-mail experiment. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 39(1), 21-25.
McNaught, C., Burd, A., Whithear, K., Prescott, J. and Browning, G. (2003). It takes more than metadata and stories of success: Understanding barriers to reuse of computer facilitated learning resources. Australian Journal of Educational Technology, 19(1), 72-86. http://www.ascilite.org.au/ajet/ajet19/mcnaught.html
Thurstun, J. (2000). Screenreading: Challenges of the new literacies. Technology, Education and Society, 1, 39-55.
|Authors: Margaret Kropman, Centre for Flexible Learning, Macquarie University 2109, Australia. firstname.lastname@example.org|
Herbert P. Schoch and Hai Yap Teoh, Department of Accounting and Finance, Macquarie University 2109, Australia. email@example.com
Please cite as: Kropman, M., Schoch, H.P. & Teoh, H.Y. (2004). An experience in e-learning: Using an electronic textbook. In R. Atkinson, C. McBeath, D. Jonas-Dwyer & R. Phillips (Eds), Beyond the comfort zone: Proceedings of the 21st ASCILITE Conference (pp. 512-515). Perth, 5-8 December. http://www.ascilite.org.au/conferences/perth04/procs/kropman.html
© 2004 Margaret Kropman, Herbert P. Schoch & Hai Yap Teoh
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