Stuart Armsworth
ICT DST Manager

Using eBooks / digital publishing in education as an information resource.

Do fellow educators use multi touch books (PDF,ePub or iBooks) for lessons / assignments? 

If so, why? 

Are there enough to choose from?

What are the best features that you like about using them?

Do you think they enhance teaching?

I'd be interested to see what others think



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Erica Frank

Posted on 5/19/16 11:48:40 PM Permalink

There are several online sources of free/open source textbooks - https://open.umn.edu/opentextbooks/, http://www.collegeopentextbooks.org/, https://oerconsortium.org/discipline-specific/ and so on. Many standard textbooks are now available with paid ebook versions as well, although some of those are only "rented" instead of "purchased," and often have the problem of requiring internet access to read at all; they aren't even "download with DRM" but only activated through a website.

The best feature is portability - students don't need to carry around heavy textbooks. Second-best is searchability; it's terrific to be able to search for a passage or keyword. And some systems have semi-shared textbooks, where you can share highlighted passages and see passages that other people have marked.

After that... ebooks are weak textbooks.

I've been actively using them for over 10 years. I love ebooks... but they're very weak as textbooks.


  • They almost all have some kind of bookmarking, but none of them are as useful as post-its or equivalent to multiple colors of post-its.
  • Navigation is troublesome; you can read in linear order (ebooks are terrific for novels!) but "flip through" is often troublesome, and it's hard to "flip through to find that map you saw in the top-left corner." There's no easy "flip ahead about 50 pages, then slowly to find what you want--then back to your original spot."
  • You can't easily open four ebooks and compare the details. With print books, you can spread them out on your desk or bed and jump between them; because of the limitations of computer screens, this is very impractical (and sometimes impossible, depending on software) for ebooks.
  • Images are often downsampled for ebooks. Charts are often images instead of text, which can make them hard to read.
  • DRM (digital rights management) systems are varied, with various levels of "you can't use this," including for many functions that are entirely legal - like quoting a passage in a paper. The student has to type that in, just like for print - only the ebook is taking up valuable computer screen space, so he or she has to keep flipping between programs.
  • Citing ebooks is often troublesome. (This is a flaw with citation standards, not with ebooks, but it does come up.)
  • There is no "write in the margins" of an ebook; even those that allow annotations/notes store them as plain text.
  • Ability to share is limited or nonexistent; with any DRM'd ebook, there is no "here, read my copy and the notes I've made so you can study for the same test."
  • They're often not accessible - students without enough money for a device are stuck studying them when libraries are open; students with visual disabilities may not be able to use them at all. (On the pro side: They may have audio-conversion options, or ability to zoom text, that print books don't. But ability varies by hardware, software, and features the publisher enabled - there's no standards.) And an ebook designed for the ipad may be usable with a phone, but telling students to study on a 4" screen is ridiculous.

I love ebooks and would like for them to be more classroom-usable. As they are now, they're good for casual reading but very problematic for academic use.

Before deciding on ebook use for a classroom, research the options for your specific subject matter and the demographics of the students involved.

Stuart Armsworth

Posted on 5/21/16 8:26:30 AM Permalink

Hi Erica

Firstly a BIG thank you responding to the post, absolutely what I was looking for.. Totally agree on all the points.. This is where I think the publishers and the "stores/software providers" can help... By converting ePubs to the latest version (which provides more interactivity) and really thinking about the whole experiance of the reader.

Also would be good if the national libraries were able to lease those electronically to education.. I like the challenge of the multi open book problem for cross referencing, would be fantastic if the software viewers would have that capability.. ... Wouldn't it be good to see these wishes turned into reality...

Many thanks again for posting...absolutely brilliant