It’s Not Just Reading Anymore
It’s Not Just Reading Anymore
“Perfect timing!” That’s what Dr. Rich Ingram said about the 6-day exploratory project Teaching and Learning with Electronic Texts Sandbox offered in the Spring of 2012 by JMU Libraries, the Center for Instructional Technology and the Center for Faculty Innovation. Ingram (College of Education) started using eBooks in his classes in the fall of 2011 and, because it’s a topic of research that interests him very much, he decided to invest time in the 6-day sandbox. “My interest was not just how to use eBooks but how to create eBooks for my own courses and when this sandbox came along it was perfect for me,” said Ingram.
An ebook is a digital version of a traditional book and can be read on a computer, tablet or smart phone. Ingram said that one of the things CIT’s sandbox allowed him to find out is what other faculty members are currently doing with eBooks. Ingram decided to use an eBook for his fall semester LTLE 150 Information in Contemporary Society class, a completely online course.
The Sandbox 2012 participants also learned about Mendeley, a desktop and web program for managing and sharing research papers. This research tool allows you to track your own articles and provides a way to collaborate with others. Using Mendeley, Ingram is now working with students on research projects and they now have a collaborative literature base of approximately 75 research articles. This past summer he worked with a JMU student who completed an Ed Tech masters degree using iBooks Author. As part of the work to complete her degree, she taught third graders how to create illustrated eBooks.
Dr. Ingram said that copyright issues remained one of the biggest topics for discussion during the sandbox. “When you start creating eBooks or modifying eBooks, then you get all kinds of questions about copyright.” As part of the sandbox, Brian Cockburn, head of the JMU Music Library, answered many of our questions about Creative Commons and was very knowledgeable and helpful.” Ingram said that although many of their questions about copyright were answered, the discussions generated many more questions that hadn’t been thought of earlier. “That’s just the nature of the area,” said Ingram. “The entire field of publishing is changing in terms of eBooks, relationships with authors, who can author books, new types of devices, new kinds of eReaders and new publishing models. I don’t know of any area that is hotter than publishing. And by that I mean mostly ePublishing and by that I mean mostly eBooks.”
After considering the purchase and use of a CafeScribe digital textbook, Ingram decided instead to try a free eBook for his Information in Contemporary Society online course. He could also make the eBook available for free to his students. Knowing that there would be lots of discussion around the book, he modified the eBook using Adobe Acrobat. Links embedded in the book direct students to a wiki where they can respond to questions. The instructor is able to pick out a few of the better responses to use for generating class discussions. Ingram said that he would call this a tagged book. “This is not a formal phrase, but my own term. The terminology is still evolving”. Ingram said that it’s a very logistically practical way to get a lot of information in a form that he can use to support instruction. “It’s very efficient and lets me get around the technology and just focus on the questions and responses.” Ingram’s Information in Contemporary Society is a synchronous course with online synchronous discussions through Elluminate. Using Elluminate, he looks at several questions and asks the students to elaborate about what they were thinking. “The course gets into everything – technology and copyright and all kinds of issues. It’s a fun course from that point of view.”
In late January, Apple announced iBooks 2 and a tool called iBooks Author. Ingram made use of these tools to create an eBook in about 30 minutes using iBooks Author. In his LTLE 625 Advanced Video class, he and four students, in preparation for a visit from the accreditation group NCATE (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education), created an eBook that introduced the JMU students to the NCATE team. For the NCATE book they first created the media and then put it all into iBooks Author. Ingram said that once he got into the iBooks Author template, everything was automatically organized. Widgets, which are components of an interface that enables a user to perform a function or access more information, were easily added. There is a video widget. There is a gallery widget. Many widgets are available. Ingram said that he can have a completely interactive web page can up and live in relatively short time. He can highlight and make note cards and study cards available to students. “The iBooks Author is beautiful. It’s a free app, which is amazing,” said Ingram. “If you have 50 textbooks, you can put them on a 2 lb. iPad.”
When asked about the learning curve for creating an iBook, Ingram said it is minimal, at least for iBooks Author itself. Creating the supporting digital media can involve a good bit of work, however. Also, one current limitation is that you can only display it on an iPad and you can only create it on a Mac. But it’s free, and he said that history shows that someone will come up with tools that are very similar to iBooks Author for other platforms. While it is proprietary with Apple now, Ingram expects that someone in the next year or two will offer another tool that has a wider applicability using the same sorts of things.
When asked about how students respond to eBooks, Ingram said that the area of mediated eBooks has moved so rapidly it hasn’t differentiated within that category yet. Very recently it has started to differentiate somewhat. One of the key sub concepts for him is the mediated eBook. What is usually referred to as an eBook is a PDF (Portable Document Format) equivalent of an actual book, called a “replica eBook”, meaning the ebook looks exactly the same as its printed counterpart. The PDF format represents a document that is independent of application software and hardware and is what most people think of when they refer to an eBook. Ingram took a replica eBook and tagged it, but he said that is not a mediated eBook. “A mediated eBook, in my mind, is an electronic book that includes rich media and interactivity. There are only three ways of acquiring those that I know of right now.” One way is to create the eBook using iBooks Author. Another way is to purchase an eBook from Inkling, an ePublishing company that mediates standard textbooks by adding interactivity, rich media and video. Chapters of the books are available at the iTunes App Store. Ingram said that he thought it was interesting that the JMU bookstore offered books through CafeScribe last year, but this year, for the first time, they started offering books through Inkling, a Silicon Valley startup that offers interactive textbooks. This semester he is using a mediated eBook of an Inkling book. Dr. Ingram’s student feedback about eBooks has been somewhat mixed and initial student feedback about the eBooks used in class has ranged from great to guarded. As one student noted:
…I have to say I love it! It's very interesting and useful the way that I can just click links embedded into the text to take me to videos and articles that relate to the subject. I love that I can hover over vocabulary words if I don't know the definition and it will pop up right next to the word. I love that I can go from chapter to chapter on the side bar. It's really great. I really was not looking forward to using the book because I thought it would hurt my eyes too much to read on the computer, but I love how interactive it is. Also, I can access it through an app in my iTouch which is super convenient because even if I don't want to lug around my heavy PC, I can still read for class, and store my reading in my pocket.
Other students were more guarded in their reaction, referring to the amount of content in the book as approaching “information overload” and even “information anxiety.” A fourth student, however, saw this content as an interesting challenge, noting that “I do well absorbing large amounts [of content] at one time, and generally speaking change is enjoyable for me.”
There can be little doubt that change is coming to higher education in the form of the mediated eBook. Convenience, the generally lower cost of eBooks compared to traditional textbooks, and new instructional features built into the eBooks (e.g., note taking, interactive quizzes, collaboration, audio/video enhancement, interactive glossary) will likely be the driving factors. At the same time, however, concerns about the new eBooks remain, from perceived difficulty reading electronic text (“my eyes get tired”) to distraction caused by eBook navigation and multimedia content (“I like it better when it's just the normal text”) to a reluctance to move away from the traditional reading experience (“I'm a bibliophile. I like the feel of a book in my hands”).
With greater familiarity with the nature of these eBooks, and refinements in their design resulting from large-scale usage, mediated eBooks are at the forefront of the changing nature of what it means to be a student (and professor) in the 21st century.
"The Perfect Time to Find Out What eText is All About"
Marjie Scheikl, an instructor in the Department of Nursing, also attended the Teaching and Learning with Electronic Texts Sandbox sponsored by the Center for Instructional Technology, the Center for Faculty Innovation, and Libraries & Educational Technologies. She discovered the workshop while browsing the CIT website and thought it would be the perfect time to find out what eText is all about. A publishing company representative had recently met with the nursing faculty and let them know that they were marketing eBooks directly to the students, the same textbooks the department was already using.
Although she attended the series of workshops for foundational knowledge of what’s happening with eBooks, how it can be applied, and what was happening on JMU’s campus, she discovered so much more. “I had the opportunity to investigate the book that is currently available as the eBook for one of my undergraduate courses,” she said. “I didn’t like what I saw. It was basically a digital copy of the book. It didn’t flow. Highlighting and navigation were difficult, and it wasn’t what I envisioned the digital textbook could truly be. The publisher was just not there yet.” With the emergence of new interactive technologies, Scheikl is hopeful that eBooks will improve. “In the medical area, more interactivity in eTexts would be fantastic! If a student is reading and they could click the link and watch a video that shows or talks about a medical concept, it would be phenomenal.”
Even with the current shortfalls, Scheikl sees advantages to using eBooks for both faculty and students. “For faculty, some publishers will make a deal with you from their entire selection of eBooks,” she said. “You can choose a few chapters from one book and a few from another and kind of create your own book.” Another thing that she learned, and loved, is that when she downloaded her book from one publisher’s bookshelf, any other book that a nursing faculty membered ordered from that publisher was available to her. “So for us that is key, because we are getting a new curriculum. We are trying to make sure all of our courses are in sync, that the books we are using don’t contradict each other.”
There are benefits to the students as well. “One student benefit is the cost difference,” said Scheikl. “The books that are currently available in eText form are 35% cheaper, which may not sound like a lot, but nursing books are very expensive.” Scheikl also noted that some publishers are letting students print off an unlimited number of pages and are giving them access to the eBook for their lifetime.
Overall, she thought the Teaching and Learning with Electronic Texts Sandbox was very good. “I think everybody took something away from it, which is very interesting, since we were all at different interest and knowledge levels.”
Craig Baugher and Bobbi Simonsen, Center for Instructional Technology