On Monday, text book publisher McGraw-Hill rolled out its first digital, cloud-based textbook. While McGraw-Hill had previously sold digital supplements to print curriculum, this will be the first all-digital effort available to the K-12 market. It comes as something of a surprise that it has taken so long, but the hardware limitations frequently faced by schools had until recently presented enough of an obstacle to discourage publishers. According to Sarah Kessler at Mashable, the e-books will be part of a complete online curriculum for K-12 math and 7-12 science which will also allow students to “participate in Facebook-like conversations that stay with the text.” Polly Stansell, of McGraw-Hill, explains, “We’re trying to meet students and teachers where they’re at digitally.”
A recent study, however, suggests that this may not necessarily be the wisest strategy, at least in terms of educational effectiveness. The University of California Libraries recently released the findings of a 2010 survey of e-book users which included graduate and undergraduate students as well as post-doctoral researchers and faculty members. Surprisingly, the youngest participants registered the strongest preference for print. Undergraduates reported the highest percentage of participants, 58%, preferring print textbooks over e-books. Altogether, 44% of the participants said they preferred print, while only 35% indicated a preferrence for e-books.
Participants were also asked to explain their preference, and their responses were summarized by Nicholas Carr as follows, “The answers suggest that while students prefer e-books when they need to search through a book quickly to find a particular fact or passage, they prefer printed books for deep, attentive reading.” One response in particular, also cited by Carr, was especially illuminating:
“I answered that I prefer print books, generally. However, the better answer would be that print books are better in some situations, while e-books are better in others. Each have their role – e-books are great for assessing the book, relatively quick searches, like encyclopedias or fact checking, checking bibliography for citations, and reading selected chapters or the introduction. If I want to read the entire book, I prefer print. If I want to interact extensively with the text, I would buy the book to mark up with my annotations; if I want to read for background (not as intensively) I will check out a print book from the library if possible. All options have their place …”