Compared with print publications, e-textbooks can be “clumsy” and difficult to use, according to a report on a program that sought to assess the cost, ease of use and feasibility of digital textbooks at five universities released recently by Internet2, a union of higher education institutions that works to develop advanced networking technologies.
For the pilot, Cornell, Indiana University, and the Universities of Minnesota, Virginia and Wisconsin each supplied up to 1,000 students with software that allowed them to them read textbooks electronically in eligible courses. The e-reader also enabled students and their professors to highlight passages, mark sections of text and share reading notes.
“With technology, many things change with repeated use, Bradley C. Wheeler, Indiana University’s vice president for information technology, told The Chronicle of Higher Education. People have lots of early first impressions as they experience new things, and then over time you start to see things become more mainstream, as the technology improves and skills and even attitudes toward use improve.
Though students said they found the e-books to be difficult to read on computers and other devices, some said they liked the convenience of not carrying a backpack full of books. Students also hailed the potential of e-textbooks to help them save money.
It could be a good idea because its a lot cheaper, and its better than having to lug around textbooks, Svea Hardwick, a student at the University of Virginia, told the Cavalier Daily.
For their part, faculty also said they preferred printed texts, although some said they had yet to tap the e-textbooks’ digital features.
Twenty-two universities will join the pilot this fall, including the State University of New York at Buffalo and Stony Brook University.
The academic experiments are taking place amid changes in publishing generally. In 2011, revenue from e-book sales of adult fiction topped hardcover sales of novels, according to the Association of American Publishers.