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E-books’ benefits questioned

BY LILY ABROMEIT | APRIL 29, 2014 5:00 AM

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Having knowledge and information at the tip of your fingertips at all times may be convenient, but two researchers have found some technology, such as e-books, may cause problems.

When the e-book fad hit college campuses, Jordan and Heather Schugar caught on.

Piqued by their interest in the unique technology, the couple decided to take a look at how e-books affected students’ learning and reading comprehension.

After years of research, the results of their study came out earlier this month to reveal that the technology may not be as beneficial to students as some originally had thought.

“We found that the quality of the book is going to affect the comprehension,” Jordan Schugar, an instructor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. “These devices [are] bringing to life some complex learning experiences that have been kind of static before.”

The study, using middle-school students, consisted of numerous reading tests based on interactions with the e-books.

Taking into consideration videos, pop-ups, and graphics, the Schugars found that these additions are either very helpful or detrimental.

Jordan Schugar said the most important outcome of the study is to aid people in learning to understand how to use e-books effectively.

“Certainly these things are convenient, and technology always provides motivation for students to participate,” he said. “These e-books make it a little easier to do that, but you have to understand how these are in different environments.”

John Achrazoglou, the chief technology officer in the University of Iowa College of Education, said the development of this technology will improve how it affects students.

“I think you have to look at how it is used,” he said. “Digital text can break down barriers between a lot of learners and the materials they have to learn.”

In order to do this, he said, professors must first learn how to harness the new technology to be the most helpful.

“I think as time goes on, as students expect more and more to be on their touch devices, and as e-books develop, it’s very important that teachers understand how to use them,” he said. “Things are changing, and as e-books catch up to students and faculty … I think the e-book is going to change the way it is interfacing with students.”

A librarian who works closely with e-books said this process is starting to take hold at the UI.

“There is actually a huge demand for that,” said Karen Fischer, a UI collections analysis librarian. “They are hugely popular. We own tens of thousands of them, and we find a lot of use for those.”

Fischer said although she herself understands the problems with retention that arise from e-books, she has not seen it at the UI. In fact, she said, she has noticed an increase in the number of students taking advantage of the technology, especially in the health sciences.

“E-books are used very heavily because doctors and scientists are just going in to look up a chapter or to cite medical information, and then they get out,” she said. “How patrons use them varies a lot depending on their field of study.”

Jordan Schugar said it will be interesting to see how the use evolves at the college level.

“It certainly puts more immediate knowledge in the hands of students,” he said. “It’s almost sort of revolutionary. These things are sort of new, so it’ll take some time for it to trickle down. They’ll become more affordable, more acceptable, more ubiquitous in education.”


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