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The most powerful eBook solutions are those that are the most flexible and mobile.
CIDDE’s staff has been investigating eBook and eTextbook technologies in order to help faculty navigate the many and growing options for using books in electronic form.
The CIDDE team investigated “current and emerging technologies for creating, distributing, and using electronic books, particularly as substitutes or supplements for traditional textbooks and as platforms for delivering multimedia-enhanced course materials.” Our goal was to better inform University faculty and instructional support staff of the capabilities, benefits, limitations, and evolutionary path of eBooks and eBook reader technology.
The team’s findings reinforce the idea that eBooks and eTextbooks are evolving at a frenetic pace. New vendors of eBook readers sometimes appear and disappear within a single academic term. New devices such as the iPad and its competitors are stimulating redefinitions of the terms “book” and “textbook.”
EBooks have turned the corner into acceptance by the general public, with Amazon announcing in July 2010 that it had sold nearly twice as many eBooks as paper books. The most powerful eBook solutions are those that are the most flexible and mobile. For example, the mainstream eBook reader platforms provide eBook access on dedicated eBook readers (e.g. Kindle, Nook, Kobo), smart phones and other general-purpose mobile devices (e.g. iPhone, iPad, Android), and on desktops/laptops (Windows, Macintosh and Linux). These platforms allow customization to personal preferences of reading experiences and the characteristics (size, contrast, etc.) of the eBook reader. They can synchronize attributes such as bookmarks, notes, and highlights across all of your reader devices.
In contrast, eTextbooks have not been as successful. Most eTextbooks are neither flexible nor mobile: the majority are electronic replicas of the printed textbook. Apparently publishers have eschewed the additional work required to create an adaptive eTextbook and have chosen ease of creation and intellectual property protection of the secured PDF document as the primary mode of electronic publishing. Many publishers will not allow their eTextbooks to be transferred to mobile devices. Those that do are awkward and ineffective because the PDF format does not adapt to the undersized displays of most mobile devices.
In a positive development, applications like Al Gore’s “Our Choice” demonstrate the possibilities of integrating video, photos and graphics, albeit at a high development cost. The even more impressive Inkling application adds quizzes, applications, feedback, and branching, and enables many publishers to adapt content to its application. At least half a dozen publishers have adopted the Inkling platform, and together have created at least 99 eTextbooks to date. Unfortunately, both “Our Choice” and Inkling are limited to the iPad platform and not available in any other format.
Some other eTextbook initiatives are promising as well. In particular, the McGraw-Hill collaboration with Blackboard on a Connect application brings to the online course management system environment the type of interactive and multimedia features seen in Inkling. Unfortunately, since this content is only accessible with an Internet connection, many of the advantages of mobility are lost. In fact, little, if any, of the content from McGraw-Hill Connect, Nook Study, and Café Scribe would play on a mobile device.
ETextbook publishers and distributors need to develop simpler solutions to guarantee intellectual property without unduly constraining users. For example, nearly all publishers severely limit the number of pages that may be printed from an eTextbook. Although such measures may slow down the determined thief, they often impede the legitimate user. It is ironic that paper books are easily photocopied, but eBooks, which should be much more flexible, are often impossible to print.
The project team’s advice to faculty and instructional support staff is to actively experiment with eBooks first, both on your computers and on smartphones and mobile devices. If you’re an avid reader, seriously consider purchasing a dedicated reader. You won’t regret it.
The eBook team examined some mainstream reading devices (PC, Mac, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Android, Blackberry, Kindle, Nook, and Sony), explored several applications (iBooks, Kindle, Nook, Kobo, CourseSmart, Stanza, Calibre, etc.), and contacted text book publishers about their standards, practices, and directions. The eBook Investigation Study report is available in several electronic formats by following the links below. The report addresses eBook features, formats, readers, and emerging options for eTextbooks.
- PDF (Standard): Suitable for printing; about 5.8 MB Adobe PDF file.
- PDF (Web quality): Suitable for online viewing; about 2.1 MB Adobe PDF file.
- EPUB: Standard eBook format; can be read by Nook, Sony, Kobo, etc.
- MOBI: eBook format that can be read by Kindle applications, among others.
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The Teaching Times newsletter is devoted to the support of teaching and learning at the University of Pittsburgh. The Teaching Times shares faculty teaching experiences, strategies and techniques that can be applied in classrooms across the University. The Teaching Times welcomes letters and articles from faculty about any topic affecting University teaching and learning.
Carol DeArment, Editor