by Elizabeth Dobler
In trying to understand the habits, preferences and strategies of college students who read e-textbooks, I embarked on a two-phase research study a few years ago. Phase I of the study surveyed 56 preservice teachers in a language arts methods course using the e-textbook Teaching the Language Arts: Forward Thinking in Today’s Classroom, a book I co-authored with my blog partners Denise Johnson and DeVere Wolsey. The results of that study were published in the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy in March, 2015 (see citation below).
I am in the midst of writing a manuscript for phase II of the study. This time I am using a case study model to delve into the literacy practices of two college students, Kylie and Aaron, both participants in phase I. I love case study work because I can really get to know the participants and, in a very small way, begin to understand what makes them “tick” as learners. I find the results fascinating, and I want to share a bit about my initial thoughts in this blog post.
Neither Kylie nor Aaron are avid textbook readers. Both skim, although for slightly different reasons. Kylie is unengaged with most textbooks and views textbook reading merely as a required task to be checked off a list. Aaron sees himself as a slow reader, a self-diagnosed affliction that started in the early elementary grades. Aaron prefers to read small chunks of text where he can quickly pick out bits of information. For this reason, the textbook is preferred to a lengthy novel, and the e-textbook is preferred over the print textbook because the layout presents information in bite-sized pieces with media, images, and web links in between to break up the text.
Both Kylie and Aaron indicate e-textbook tools that seem to facilitate their learning. For Kylie, the digital highlighting and notetaking tools let her apply strategies similar to reading print textbooks. For her, the e-textbook serves merely as a substitute for the print textbook, albeit a less expensive and lighter alternative. Kylie does not view multimedia or web links as useful tools for supporting or extending her learning and only accesses them in a limited way.
In contrast, Aaron enthusiastically describes his interactions with the media embedded within the e-textbook. He chooses to watch videos, listen to podcasts, and click on web links when he wants to learn more about a topic. In fact, this is Aaron’s preferred way of learning information within the e-textbook. He can process information more quickly than by reading text, thus he is able to keep a reading and learning pace consistent with the others in his study group.
The results of this case study emphasize a key idea that all teachers, including myself, would do well to remember: Each learner is an individual with his or her own set of learning preferences, habits, and strategies. Students should be given choices in textbook format, so they can make the choice between print or digital textbooks to best match their own learning styles.
Dobler, E. (2015). e-Textbooks: A personalized learning experience or a digital distraction? Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy 58.6: 478–487.