The Chronicle of Higher Education reported a new study today that shows most students only saved $1 purchasing E-Textbooks when compared to those who purchased printed books.
Sadly this is the headline but isn't the important aspect of this study. After all, why shouldn't publishers expect to get paid for their work whether they deliver it on paper or via bits and bytes? We should know by now that publishing something electronically doesn't necessarily mean it's going to be less expensive.
The real question of worth is not related to the monetary cost, the question is will people use it and will it surpass the utility of simply consuming the printed word?
The Educause study from Daytona State College reports that more than 60% of participants did not enjoy reading or referring to their text book in place of a printed book. Further, more than 65% of students felt they were less prepared for exams then they would have been if they would have had the book.
One big challenge to the Daytona State College teaching staff in this study was the fact that many of their students were not technologically savvy. This can certainly effect the results of the study. We could imagine that students with more technical skills would be more attracted to the technology and thus would have been happier reading the books online.
If you look at the results of the study, though, you see that the students did use the technology available to them and found it quite important to the success of their work in the class. About 65% of students said the applications on the netbooks they were assigned were helpful in doing the work in the class.
So the students used the technology to complete their class work but they did not enjoy reading the book electronically and they felt the screen version of the text left them less prepared than they would have been with a printed book.
Another factor in gauging the utility of E-books and E-readers is the ecological footprint of the technology versus printed books. It turns out that the environmental impact of the electronic version may by much higher than the printed version. According Raz Godelnik of EcoLibris, Apple Computer's own documentation shows that one iPad has "the carbon footprint that is equal to the footprint of about 32 paper books". Amazon.com and other E-reader sellers do not publish the eco-footprint of Kindle and other devices.
I am not suggesting that E-books and E-readers are wasteful or bad. In fact, I believe the technology of these micro devices should be important to the expansion of communication between people in the modern world. It is, in fact, the utility of the communications tools that make these devices so important, not the consumption of media. The communications tools can make them more valuable then if they are used simply as tools for media consumption.
Schools and families buying up these devices by the millions should be planning other uses beyond keeping books out of our children's backpacks. Manufacturers should be creating devices that have other tools that further the communication of ideas between people.
Making a list of applications for these devices and how you would use them in learning and communicating is a great place to start when trying to decide whether or not to introduce an iPad or Kindle to your students. Not, how many books you can pack into them.