eReaders as Content Delivery Systems

Last fall I was awarded an internal grant to experiment with using an iPad in the classroom.  For the most part, the iPad was superfluous.  I was leading a graduate level seminar, and as a group we lacked the imagination on how to use the technology to enhance discussion.  It became a running joke that the only time we used the iPad was to look up some arcane fact, often on wikipedia.

But for the last class we read Nina Simon’s The Participatory Museum, and Nina made the full book available for download for free as a pdf or in any format for an eReader (iPad, Kindle, etc.). This suddenly raised some interesting questions about how we, as readers, were consuming texts.

For various reasons, my students often don’t buy their books, opting to use copies from the library.  (Keep thinking about printed books while recognizing that USC’s library allows students to rent iPads.) Nina’s generosity allowed students to experiment with different formats to read the text.  Despite being freely available in digital format, about half the class (6 students) still opted to buy the physical book, 2 students read the book online in pdf form, and 4 read it on eReaders.

The experiment made me think about how we visualize books, which may be a bit out of scope for this working group, but I would argue is a cantilever (not necessarily a full bridge) to visualizing other types of information.

I have a lousy memory for content, but I am great at remembering where I read something, and it is a very visual memory.  I can remember what side of a page the information was on and how the page was laid out (paragraph blocking, section breaks, etc.).  This makes it very easy for me to look things up.

The static page is now gone.  My 300-page book became a 900-page eBook, which could dynamically change depending on how big I wanted the font.  The flow of the digital page made it difficult for me to remember specific content.  The differences in formats made discussion with reference to the text more challenging.

I am curious how dynamic digital texts are changing our comprehension and retention of all types of information.  Does anyone know of anyone who is tracking this (in formal or informal settings)?

One thought on “eReaders as Content Delivery Systems

  1. I feel like I did just hear about some research on this during a panel discussion on the landscape of e-textbooks we had at UNC Faculty Council in March. I will try to see if I can track down the source of the snippet I recall about this. It did have to do with student learning in etext environments.

    It is really clear the the e-textbook is really fundamentally changing what is meant by a “textbook” so much that that term may no longer be relevant.

    Also, Profs Cheryl Bolick and Jeff Greene at the UNC School of Education presently have an NSF grant to study student learning in e-environments; taht might be pertinent, too, though they are still in research phase now.

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