By Jennifer Janviere
The current generation of college students grew up in a world defined by the Internet and electronic information. Digital technology changed the way information is delivered and digested, and is now poised to institute a change in the university learning environment. A rapidly shrinking print industry combined with an increasing demand for the electronic delivery of information means that electronic reading devices such as the Kindle, Nook and the new iPad could soon become staples of daily life. As E-readers become widely available, this shift will predictably change the way that we read everything from daily newspapers to literary masterpieces.
Not to mention college textbooks.
This past fall, six universities around the country participated in an experimental trial of using the Kindle as the primary source for textbooks. It stands to reason that as more universities embrace this technology electronic, readers could eventually become a regular part of the academic environment. What impact will this have on the way that students buy and read text books? And will this mean the extinction of the traditional college bookstore? Below are a few pros and cons of the switch from printed to electronic texts.
Versatility of multimedia information. With some books offered as both text and audio versions, the student could digest information in multiple formats. Some devices offer text to speech recognition technology, allowing users the option of listening to an audio version of a book. Information can then be absorbed while driving in the car or riding the bus home, not just sitting and reading in a stationary spot. This also opens up more options for people with learning disabilities or visual impairments, who might otherwise have trouble with reading in a traditional format. Such versatility of information distribution could ultimately provide a richer and more well-rounded experience for users.
Cost Savings. Over the course of four or more years in school, the cost of downloading digital textbooks would likely cost substantially less than their physical counterparts. For many students, the one time purchase of an electronic reader would cost about the same as (or possibly less than) a semester’s textbooks.
Space Saver. With a single device that holds up to just over a thousand books worth of data, students could access the materials from all of their classes without the hassle of lugging heavy texts around for studying. More libraries now offer users digital content available to download, making the process of reading while on the go a lot easier.
Initial Investment. The kindle and devices like it require an initial upfront investment, often in the range of several hundred dollars or more. With college costs on the rise, some students will undoubtedly find this device expensive. Not to mention what happens if the student breaks or loses a reader and must replace it.
Legibility. With small, backlit screens, some users argue that the electronic readers currently on the market are not yet optimized for all users. This is already changing, however, as devices like the iPad become introduced to the marketplace.
Limited viewing options. Many electronic readers currently on the market display only black and white information, preventing information such as diagrams and charts to be seen in full color. This is fine for plain text, but what about a science or art history book that requires color for the viewer to fully experience the content? Again, something that is already beginning to change even if it’s not quite there yet.
As the print declines and the digital world becomes more integrated into our lives with each day, it seems inevitable that textbooks will eventually be delivered exclusively in electronic format. Whether this change will be gradual or dramatic, and how the transition will ultimately change the learning experience still remains to be seen.
Jennifer Janviere is a multimedia specialist and instructor in the Diederich College of Communication.