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Should UI be participating in the e-book study?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | JULY 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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No

Although Prairie Lights and UI are making changes for the future of e-books, the books are still questionable in their use.

They may lighten the load in your backpack and save trees, but many studies have found that students don't learn any better in an electronic format and that more than often, the results are worse.

The problem with pioneering the use of e-books is that we're pioneering: testing something that's not guaranteed to be beneficial for learning. The positive outcome of e-books should be established before we pursue it, and the UI is not the place it should be tested.

There is the argument that the use of e-books is more "green" and cheaper for students, but the rate of both right now is just simply not worth the investment.

The Amazon Kindle is the most eco-friendly, and it still leaves the carbon footprint of buying 30 books online, according to EcoLibris. The original iPad will emit just 30 kg less of carbon in its life than the Kindle at 130 kg, all the while containing the radical elements bromine and chlorine, according to the iPad environmental report.

And the pricing of e-books is cheaper for now, but there is a serious amount of money to be made in the field, and it's a matter of time until it's industrialized and monopolized.

One blaring problem with students reading their textbooks on their tablets or computers is that they are constantly a click away from Facebook and YouTube. Federal officials have publicly stated that electronic learning devices should not be used unless they can benefit the disabled.

"I don't like [the e-book format]," said Alex Mills, a tech-savvy UI senior who plays such games as World of Warcraft daily. "I can't write in my books. I like to hold a book, you know, and I wouldn't want to be told by my professor that I have to learn their way."

Sam Van Horne, one of the authors of the $20,000 Donald A. Rieck Research Grant application, said in an interview with the DI: "They're [e-books] touted as a boost to student learning, but what we're exploring is, do they really do that? And if they do, under what conditions? There is a lot of national interest in those questions."

The problem with this grant is that it's an experiment that could interfere with student learning. New, unique ways to help students — such as integrating videos as often as pictures in text books — just makes information too available to students, spoon-feeding them instead of obligating them to think creatively and come to conclusions on their own. And trying to incorporate old techniques such as highlighting has been proved ineffective by a 2010 study from the Journal of Educational Psychology, with students often over-highlighting and losing the significance of the function.

Simply, we should not take the risk with this experiment; let other universities try it out and then later reap the benefits.

— Jacob Lancaster

Yes

Last semester, I took five classes, and three of them had all of the reading material online — and that was wonderful. I only had to purchase two textbooks — one which I forgot to open the entire semester — but the electronic material was hugely useful, and I still have some of the more valuable readings saved to my computer today.

The University of Iowa is participating in a research project with McGraw-Hill to examine the effects of e-books in classrooms. This is great for the university because e-books will likely prove successful, and if not, any program that studies ways to cut costs and increase efficiency is beneficial.

I already know that the electronic medium works for me, because I've used it. I can't lose it (because it's always online), I can't spill on it, I can't accidentally set it on fire, and I don't have to pay quite as much for it. The $20,000 grant next semester even makes the e-books free for 800 lucky students.

There is something great about turning pages, highlighting sections, and writing in a book, but because many students are renting or re-selling textbooks that have to be returned in the best condition, we're not benefiting from the current situation.

Furthermore, our generation knows electronics. Nearly anywhere we go, we have Internet access — and if not, it's easier to print some pages rather than carrying a heavy textbook.

E-books will prove advantageous in many ways, especially for our pocketbooks. E-books are readily updated and cost less to produce. They've proven to be successful in the leisure industry, and it's about time textbooks are given the e-book entrepreneurial opportunities, too.

Publishers could see profits in increased advertising, and could guarantee more sales if students are required individualized access codes for assignments or class enrollment.

With e-books, everyone wins. Professors will benefit by knowing all of their students have the same material and can see their notes online, students benefit by decreased costs, the environment benefits from decreased waste, and publishers benefit from the revenue of a quality product. All around, good deal.

Best of all, even if I'm wrong, this is a research study — and research is good. Publishers will get better ideas for improving their products; professors may learn what works better for their class; and 800 students will have had a free textbook for a semester.

E-books right now are not perfect, but the research could push them in that direction. There are quirks that need to be addressed so that we end up with a product that is useful and superior — and the only way to find that best product is by testing the prototype. That's just what we are going to do.

— Katie Kuntz


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