Monday, February 14, 2011

5 Considerations for Using Electronic Books in Schools

At the top of the 2011 Horizon Report’s technology adoption list is electronic books. This is not surprising since more and more people are turning to reading electronic books. A BISG (Book Industry Study Group) survey in 2010 stated that “E-book sales grew exponentially in first quarter 2010 jumping from 1.5% of total US book sales in 2009 to 5% of the market in first quarter of 2010.” According to the American Association of Publishers, E-Book sales were up 193% in October of this past year. There is no doubt about the growing market place for electronic books and the shrinking market for print books. On a personal note, I have now joined the e-book buyers market myself with purchases of several electronic books in the past three months. Electronic books are quite popular with consumers and the 2011 Horizon Report acknowledges that.
“Now that they are firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading. Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader’s experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text. The content of electronic books and the social activities they enable, rather than the device used to access them, are the keys to their popularity; nearly everyone carries some device that can function as an electronic reader, and more people are engaging with electronic books than ever before.”
My own personal experience has been that most of the electronic books I have purchased thus far are only text. I have purchased two “enhanced” electronic books that include some videos, but rather than take true advantage of the multi-media possibilities of electronic books, they appeared to just throw the video in with the text. What should we do as school leaders as we consider the use of electronic books in our schools? Here’s my own shortlist of considerations based on the 2011 Horizon Report:

1. As we consider moving to electronic books, we need to demand products that are more than electronic versions of text. Electronic books bring with them the possibility of interactivity and multimedia. We should look for products that include interactive video, graphics, and activities. If we are only going to use electronic versions of the texts were already use, we are not taking advantage of the electronic book format. This format offers so many possibilities. Check out this video entitled “The Future of the Book” to get an over of these possibilities.

The Future of the Book. from IDEO on Vimeo.

2. We should look for electronic books that foster and enhance the use of social tools for collaboration. Why can’t electronic books have the ability to allow students to collaborate while trying to understand their content? Perhaps electronic text books can somehow capitalize on the use of social networks like Twitter or Facebook. Reading a print textbook was often a solitary activity, but electronic text formats open the possibility for students to collaborate while trying to make sense of its content.

3. We should purchase devices that allow the use of all brands of electronic texts. The temptation might be to stock our classrooms with Kindles or Nooks in order to utilize electronic texts. As we all know, technological devices evolve and change so rapidly, schools could be left holding the “Kindle” so to speak. Perhaps a better investment would be to purchase tablets (iPads or Android devices). The proprietary e-reader software can then be downloaded to these devices so that schools are not tied to the fortunes of one specific kind of device.

4. We should open our school WiFi so that students can access electronic texts using their mobile devices. As the Horizon Report points out, there are some text subscription services that have apps that students can use on their mobile devices to access their content. Giving students one more level of access takes away one more additional excuse. A student can’t say, “I left my book in my locker any longer” when asked about a homework assignment.

5. We should explore all of the growing open source electronic text options that are appearing. As more and more schools turn to electronic texts, the sources of open source electronic texts are sure to grow. In times when our textbooks budgets keep getting slashed, the motto, “Free is good” makes even more sense.

As the consumer market for electronic books expands more and more, schools are going to find it more difficult to ignore this trend. But instead of waiting until electronic books for education become available, perhaps we need to become engaged now so that we can design electronic books that take advantage of multimedia, interactivity, and collaboration.


  1. We are thinking of going the e-book route with a class next year and I'm very curious how they are going to work out. How are the digital texts working out for your teachers and students?

  2. Great summary and editorial about ebooks. Lots to consider. Let's not forget our ELL students - translation tools are so important. I agree that the best way to explore this venue is to try it ourselves. Thanks.