An item in my Facebook newsfeed this week: the campus copy and printing center asks followers about buying pdf course packs instead of hard copy xeroxed bundles of course readings.
Lighter! Cheaper! Better!
“If we offered digital at a substantially lower price point than paper, would you go for it?” they asked.
The responses on Facebook were as follows: “Nope!” “Definitely not!” “I like paper and highlighting” “Absolutely I would purchase that. (serious haha)”
However, in spite of the comments, the results of the poll indicate students might actually consider taking the digital plunge. Responders were almost evenly split on whether a budget-friendly digicoursepack would suffice. Will this translate from online sentiment to real life consumer practice in September? (What do you think? Take our poll over there on the right—>)
The debate around user experience and eBooks continues to rage. As more schools opt for eBooks and eReaders for a variety of reasons including mobile learning initiatives, protests about accessibility grow, and students add their push back to the mix.
Weighing cost and convenience.
More environmentally responsible. More financially reasonable. More portable. More convenient. And yet, all things considered, the digital native cohort maintains its resistance to electronic textbooks and digital course readings. As interested in sustainability as Gen Y is, in this instance it seems that convenience wins out when it comes to studying. By and large students find it easier to read hard copy text, quicker to highlight on paper, and more effective to use post-it notes than digital stickies.
Nostalgia may be a factor, as it often is where media consumption is concerned. “There’s a deep-seated resistance to digital versions of a centuries old traditional of printed books,” observes journalist Jemima Kiss in The Guardian, “which have rightly enchanted, educated and enlightened readers since movable type.”
From professors’ POV, going paperless makes sense in the context of working in wired classrooms. Multimedia teaching is catching on so quickly across the disciplines that it’s almost become the norm—profs and their TAs are using videos, interactive whiteboards, PowerPoint, clickers, course management software, websites, intranets, even Facebook and Twitter. In response, academic publishers offer a range of supporting materials and tech tools, including of course electronic versions of textbooks. The ability to swap sections, update, personalize and customize a course textbook is an ideal solution for some profs.
As the Boomer and GenX professors warm up to teaching paperless, not only but largely because of the ease in distribution it affords, their students hit the photocopiers and printers, and at the bookstore, reach over and around the featherweight eBook coupons to fill their carts with traditional textbooks by the pound.
Understanding digital resistance.
So, easier for teachers and publishers to produce and distribute, but are e-readings easier to use for students? Allegedly not. Last fall Mashable’s Josh Catone identified three reasons why students resist eTexts, and the roadblocks he pointed to remain in place this year. Catone explained hurdles that include format wars, negligible cost savings, and digital rights management issues—and it’s this last one that has proved a real sticking point for many students. When eBook subscriptions expire, students are left with more open space on their digital devices, some confusion, and an odd sense of loss.
It’s not just about being able to resell used books, my students tell me. Tattered and marked-up textbooks and readers getting dusty and piled high on shelves signify the learning experience. They are memory objects, symbolizing all those hours of dedication and accomplishment, in solitude and with friends, that it takes to complete a course or degree.
So it’s not just the experience of holding a fluorescent yellow marker in hand while plowing through homework that makes eBooks unworkable. There’s more to students’ love of books than scribbling in the margins. The weightiness of bound paper is felt not only in knapsacks, it would seem, but also in our longstanding cultural love affair with hardcopy books.
Gen Y learns through being plugged in, connected, and online, for sure. But there are times when old school learning styles win out, when paper’s the thing and new book smell means fall is here.
Even a technoprof gets that. Let’s hit the books.
But since having options is always helpful, and my local campus copy centre poll shows evidence of sentiment shift, my solution will be to give students a choice of going paperless, by ordering a textbook with e-version available.