David Rabvinowitz has a great story up at TidBITS chronicling his experiences as a college student during this time of e-transition. Rabinowitz has a slightly more nuanced take on the whole situation because, in addition to regular classroom use, he was part of a pilot project at the University of Virginia to try out e-textbooks in an ‘integrated fashion.’
The whole essay is well-worth a read; Rabinowitz nicely sums up some of the advantages of e-texts (dictionary, highlighting, searchability) as well as some of the drawbacks. For instance:
• Many e-books are flash-based, so you can’t easily copy and paste into your study materials. I encountered this myself in an online course I took, which required regular citation of the course text in your message board posts to prove you had done the reading. I remember awkwardly shuffling between two Web browser windows so I could manually retype the non-copyable text in the one into the new message window in the other…
• Inconsistent format options make book management difficult. Rabonowitz rattles off a laundry list of file formats his books come in, each requiring their own browser or app or interface. In one instance, he bought a book from the Kindle store that was not compatible with his E Ink Kindle (it was designed for the Kindle Fire), and had to break out the laptop for it. In another case, the book required a live Internet connection and when the network was down, nobody could access the book.
• Features such as dictionary, annotation and search also may work differently in all these different apps, making it difficult for students to set up a consistent workflow. If you get used to highlighting and annotating, and then your new book is only available as a PDF and you can’t do it, that may limit the book’s usefulness for you. For myself, I found that given the standard ‘cite in a way that proves you did the reading’ requirement in my online professional development classes, a flash-based book that wouldn’t let me copy was a deal-breaker and I would look elsewhere in those cases for a book that otherwise would have been useful.
• Price is an issue. Rabinowitz has experimented with free books (offered as a companion to a purchased paper copy), rentals (which offered significant savings but of course expired when the course was done) and outright e-book purchases (which can’t be sold back when the term ends, thus mitigating the usually small cost savings).
Rabinowitz was overall happy with his e-textbook experience, but as he points out, there is work to be done in improving user experiences and working out the technical kinks which inhibit student and teacher adoption. There is more in the article. It’s worth a read.