Study: College Students Resist Idea of Switching to E-Books

The march towards the total replacement of traditional textbooks with e-book counterparts has hit a snag in the form of a new study released by researchers from Canada’s Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. The findings show that students think that they learn better from traditional texts and would feel that their studies [...]

The march towards the total replacement of traditional textbooks with e-book counterparts has hit a snag in the form of a new study released by researchers from Canada’s Ted Rogers School of Management at Ryerson University. The findings show that students think that they learn better from traditional texts and would feel that their studies would suffer if they were forced to use electronic versions instead.

The authors polled 388 students enrolled in a marketing course in a Canadian university that used e-textbooks extensively as academic materials. The poll contained questions seeking the students’ reactions to the use of electronic rather than traditional texts. The respondents were asked to use a 1-7 point scale to identify how much easier or harder studying was with e-texts and also if given a choice, whether they would switch to traditional texts or not. The students were asked to answer a series of questions about their internet experience like how old they were when they first used the internet and how familiar they were with technology.

The answers clearly showed that students preferred paper texts by a large margin, many citing lack of distractions when using traditional books because there’s no need to avoid the clarion call of computer-related distractions like games or web-browsing.

Some of the disadvantages highlighted in the focus groups relate to the features of an e-textbook when compared to the paper option. While aware of highlighting and sticky note features in e-textbooks, students comment on the lack of standardization among e-textbooks. Further, these technical features are device-dependent and require them to learn new software in addition to acquiring the content. Moreover, the electronic sticky notes, in particular, do not provide the same memory assistance as the paper sticky note. Students feel that they have to remember to purposely search for the electronic sticky note, in contrast to the easily observable paper sticky note.

The second phase of the study consisted of trying to ascertain how resistant students would be to giving up traditional texts based on what they considered to be the advantages of using regular rather than electronic books. It turned out that students who thought that they simply learned better with paper texts were the least likely to want to switch to e-texts. Similarly, those who perceived traditional texts to be more permanent would also strongly resist a switch.

This study demonstrates that two factors underpin students’ intention to resist giving up paper textbooks: Facilitates Study Processes and Permanence. The paper textbook is perceived as a critical tool in facilitating students’ learning and study processes. The fluid and dynamic nature of digital content compared to the more consistent and predictable nature of information on paper appears to be a barrier to the acquisition of knowledge for the purpose of assessment. Students perceive paper textbooks as the best format for extended reading and studying and for locating information. Students believe that they learn more when studying from paper textbooks. Moreover, paper textbooks allow students to manage content in whatever way they wish to study the material.

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