The Chronicle of Higher Education, in its Feb. 5, 2010 Technology section (or front page of the print edition), has a story "Tablet May Help E-Textbook Market, Publisher Hope," by Jeffrey R. Young. The story is careful to note as wrong previous rumors that Apple has made agreements with textbook publishers surrounding the new iPad tablet. But apparently textbook publishers are hoping that the new piece of technology will breathe life into the poor sales of e-textbooks. The article notes the problems with e-textbooks: students don't really like hauling their laptops everywhere, and e-textbooks sales have grown more slowly than expected. So publishers hope that the lighter, more portable and very hip iPad may make students more excited about e-books for class.
When Steve Jobs introduced the iPad in San Francisco, he mentioned iTunesU, which already has major academic applications and partnerships. But mostly, his focus was on popular, non-academic uses for the iPad.
The article does not, however, really delve into other problems with the existing e-textbook platforms. Some of the problems students have with the e-textbooks that are out there now are:
* that it's difficult to turn pages and to compare pages side by side;
* you lose the illustrations, graphs, maps, etc.;
* you can't highlight text;
* you can't make marginal notes;
* you can't copy text from the book into your notes;
* you can't have audio read-aloud functions.
Some of these functions you have in print now and students are irked to lose them going into digital books. Other functions are available in other digital formats, and students are irked that they can't have them in their digital books. When these are solved, e-textbooks will have a much better shot at the market. I don't know if iPad is the solution. I don't know the specs.
I do know that West has developed a small line of e-textbooks of its own, that do have highlighting & marginal notes as functions. I think you can have read-aloud with them, if only because you can get a screen reader. In law textbooks, the illustrations, graphs and maps are rarely an issue, so this small line called "interactive casebooks," is probably going to be an interesting test case. The student buys a print casebook and for a small premium, gets an e-copy that they have access to for 1 year and then it disappears.
Aspen has, since 2007, had e-casebooks, and now offers AspenLawStudyDesk, a software package of law student study aids:
* Organize your case briefs, class notes, statutes, and more with easy-to-use templates and systematic filing toolsThey also offer a digital MBE test-prep software suite,
* Integrate Aspen Publishers’ eBook study aids into AspenLaw Studydesk
* Succeed in law school with flashcard, quiz, and outlining tools that save you hours of study prep time
*Emanuel ExamEdge offers two complete modules:I would like to hear from any students or former students who have used e-books or these digital study aids, about how they liked them, and especially if you can compare them to non-digital products. I am not the person to test these, I am afraid!
* Exam Exerciser, with access to a database of more than 1,500 practice questions
* Exam Simulator, a set of two complete 200-question simulated MBEs
The illustration is a photo of Steve Jobs introducing the iPad in San Francisco, from the Chronicle, but they credit Justin Sullivan of Getty Images.