How do we teach students to use e-books differently than books?

August 24, 2012 at 9:49 am 15 comments

Our paper on our ebook evaluation did not get accepted to ICER2012, but we’re going to turn it into a tech report and make it more generally available (rather than just a link here) soon (and then I’ll give it its own blog post).  But our bottomline isn’t too different from the one described below: Students don’t use ebooks differently than regular books, and that’s a problem.  How do they learn to use the affordances of the new medium?

I had dinner with Sebastian Thrun Wednesday night (which deserves get its own blog post soon!), and he suggested that the problem was calling them “books” at all — it suggests the wrong kinds of interaction, it connects to an incorrect model.  Maybe he’s right.  He suggested that “video games” was better, but I think that name has its own baggage with our in-service teachers. What could we call these new media, such that students would interact with them differently than traditional paper-based books?

The report is based on a survey conducted this spring of students and faculty at five universities where e-textbook projects were coordinated by Internet2, the high-speed networking group. Students praised the e-books for helping them save money but didn’t like reading on electronic devices. Many of them complained that the e-book platform was hard to navigate. In addition, most professors who responded said that they didn’t use the e-books’ collaborative features, which include the ability to share notes or create links within the text.

via Students Find E-Textbooks ‘Clumsy’ and Don’t Use Their Interactive Features – Wired Campus – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

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15 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Max Hailperin  |  August 24, 2012 at 9:57 am

    There are two approaches. One is to find an existing word that fits what you want to say. (Some people might pick “space”, or “environment”, or “forum”. I’m not convinced they are what you want.) The other approach is to coin a new word. That can fail dismally, but it can also be incredibly successful, as in “exploratorium.”

    Reply
  • 2. Rob St. Amant  |  August 24, 2012 at 10:14 am

    I’ve learned something about the capabilities of ebooks from an unusual place: the ebook review site, downloadtheuniverse.com. Here’s a sample review, of The Solar System, by Marcus Chown. The books reviewed are popular science books rather than textbooks (e.g., they emphasize the inclusion of good navigation facilities and multimedia rather than quizzes and such), but it’s still informative reading.

    Reply
  • 3. gasstationwithoutpumps  |  August 24, 2012 at 12:33 pm

    Perhaps students interact with e-books as they do with paper books because the paper book has been a successful format for their learning (unlike forums, video games, spaces, and environments).

    Or perhaps students didn’t interact with the e-books any more than they did with the paper books, expecting someone else to tell them what they are supposed to have learned.

    I’m considering ebooks for one of my courses, but only free or extremely low cost ones. I’m not interested in the frills that seem to thrill the proponents of electronic books, but seem to me to be only excuses for publishers charging huge amounts of money. I was forced to buy an electronic textbook for one of my son’s Spanish classes (required for online homework exercises). He found it the most useless book he’s ever had to buy—the online exercises were badly done and the content was a fraction of what a decent hardcopy book would have been, at easily 3 times the price of a used textbook.

    There are a lot of free or very cheap PDF downloads of textbooks now, but no one seems to be reviewing them and helping select out the good ones from the trash.

    Reply
  • 4. David Karger  |  August 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    You observed that students didn’t use the collaborative note-sharing feature. Our experience differs: our collaborative notetaking system, nb (site http://nb.mit.edu/ , paper at CHI 2012 http://nb.mit.edu/f/2972), has been used very successfully in many classes—with hundreds of notes shared per student. And nb is a desktop system, presumably far less pleasant to use than one for e-readers. Why the difference? Well, we have lots of evidence that students skip doing many things that are beneficial to them—such as studying, practicing, and paying attention in class. Why should note-sharing be any different? As educators we know that we often have to incentivize good behavior. That was certainly the case with nb: if students were required to use it, they did so and reported after the fact that they were glad that they did. I suspect these same students would never have started using nb if they hadn’t been required to.

    Reply
    • 5. Mark Guzdial  |  August 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm

      To be clear, David, the cited report in The Chronicle claimed little use of collaborative notes. We didn’t have that facility in our ebook. Rather, we saw less use of the built-in IDE and visualization tool than we expected. But as we say in the paper, there is little data on those kinds of features in an ebook (way beyond simple PDFs or navigation support), so we didn’t really have much basis for any prediction.

      Reply
  • 6. Greg Wilson  |  August 24, 2012 at 1:39 pm

    We should call them either “xanadus” or “nelsons” instead of “e-books”.

    Reply
  • 7. Jack Toole  |  August 24, 2012 at 4:39 pm

    I think the main reason students aren’t using e-books differently are that most e-books aren’t using the medium differently themselves (Laurissa Wolfram had a good post on this a while back: http://laurissawolfram.wordpress.com/2012/04/19/book-apps-why-are-we-still-calling-them-books/ ).

    The interactive python books are way better in this area than most books, but most are basically pdfs of the textbook without any interactive features, and I suspect students are still used to this interaction model.

    That said, some of your results in that paper are impressive, such as the 1.24 (strongly agree) result for “If I took another CS class, I would want to use a book like this one (e.g., with
    code examples in it).” I didn’t think to ask that questions of my students over the summer for Coding Spellbook, but for “How much are you learning from Coding Spellbook” the results seemed normally distributed around 3 (on a 1 (low) to 5 (a lot) scale) [although I hope this is better than our traditional textbook, which very few students ever used]. For a first result of this experiment I’d hardly say the results in the paper are disappointing!

    Reply
  • 8. madskg  |  August 24, 2012 at 5:23 pm

    grimoires

    Reply
  • 9. KMorrell  |  August 24, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    I believe technology ought to be designed for how users choose to interact, not the other way around.

    Reply
    • 10. Mark Guzdial  |  August 24, 2012 at 8:00 pm

      Education is all about the other way around.

      Reply
  • 11. Mylène  |  August 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm

    This brings up so many interesting questions. “What should we call e-books” leads to “What can e-books do” and “What should e-books do.” An interesting related discussion is going on over at dy/dan about how technology can help students navigate the ladder of abstraction.

    It’s hard to come up with a word to describe a collection of things that are so disparate — maybe part of the problem is trying to use a single name for everything from scanned-print PDFs to something with a built-in IDE. For the latter, maybe we should call it an IDE with a built-in book instead? (Or really extensive help documentation).

    I can appreciate the importance of teaching students to use e-books differently than books. At the same time, I’m haunted by the question of how to teach my students to use books differently than they use books. In other words, my students often don’t recognize the importance of trying practice problems (whether on paper or with an IDE), creating visualizations, comparing notes (and critically evaluating those notes), or comparing their reference to additional resources (whether by adding links or in any other way). So giving them a technological tool to facilitate those things is answering a question they don’t have. Yet.

    What would it take for students to feel a need for those things?

    Reply
    • 12. Mark Guzdial  |  August 27, 2012 at 10:44 am

      It’s a great question, Mylène. Our work on ebooks is driven by two ICER 2011 papers, both of which talked about issues of self-efficacy in persistence in computing. Students quite literally get scared away when they struggle with installing and using their IDE. Graphical languages like Alice and Scratch help with that, but don’t help in CS classes that must use languages that the students value, e.g., Python and Java. How much easier can we make the IDE? What if it were built into the book? You’re right, it’s not quite a “book” anymore, and you’re also right, students don’t use traditional books as they might. How can we motivate use of the affordances that already exist and that we’re inventing?

      Reply
      • 13. Mylène  |  August 27, 2012 at 1:02 pm

        Ah — I see what you mean about the how demotivating those initial steps can be. I look forward to reading more.

        Reply
  • […] Commons for Computing Education, and Christine Alvarado will present a lightning talk on our ebook evaluation of the Runestone Interactive Python book.  I will likely miss some blog posts between now and when […]

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  • […] technical report on evaluation of Luther College students’ use of the first generation Runestone Interactive Python ebook is […]

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