Print Continues to Rule the World of Higher Education

By Kate Leboff

Half of Americans own an e-reading device, up from the 30% that owned one in 2013; in 2012, President Obama wanted to get e-textbooks into every classroom by 2017; and Florida lawmakers have mandated that public schools convert textbooks to digital versions. Despite the surge of technology, e-books, and “digital natives,” in recent years, evidence published in 2015 shows that, at the very least, the vast majority of students at colleges and universities around the world still prefer print to digital.

A slew of news reports have announced that after extensive studies and surveys of college students are in favor of reading their assigned readings – textbooks, journals, novels etc. – for courses in print versus on screen.  One survey of 500 active college students, taken by Direct Textbook, a comprehensive textbook price comparison service, found that 72% of students prefer print textbooks to e-books.  A study at the University of Washington found that a quarter of students still bought print versions of e-textbooks, even when those books were offered free of charge. I can sympathize. When purchasing the textbooks for the first two courses of the GW Publishing Program, I decided to purchase  the print version of the title, The Book: A Futurist’s Manifesto, despite it being offered online for free.

In January of this year, Naomi S. Baron published Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, in which she discusses “how technology is reshaping our understanding of what it means to read. Digital reading is increasingly popular. Reading onscreen has many virtues… Yet, Baron argues, the virtues of eReading are matched with drawbacks.” – from the Oxford University Press.

In her book, Baron also completed a survey of more than 300 college students in the U.S., Japan, Germany, and Slovakia, finding a nearly university preference for the tangible textbook versus its digital version. A startling 92% of students said they concentrated and comprehended more when reading a hard copy versus on a cell phone, tablet, e-reader, or computer. However, it seems that the format and medium on which these college-age digital natives are reading for pleasure, “light reading,” does not matter as much. In children and adolescents, though, it seems that reading print versus digital books is on the rise as 65% of 6 to 17 year olds would prefer “real” books to e-books, an increase of almost 17% from 2012.

In 2014, 87% of textbook sales were print editions while only 9% of the market were comprised of e-book purchases. With the leftover 4% being made up of file sharing.

The biggest issues, as outlined by Baron in her book, are students getting distracted, finding themselves multitasking and taking breaks to surf the internet more often, and the eye strain, headaches, and physical discomfort that accompanies reading on screen for hours at a time. 90% found themselves multitasking when reading onscreen than those reading the hard copy versions.

Some other reasons that have been cited as to why students prefer print textbooks to e-books included: Print textbooks are easier to read, they like the physical effort of annotating what they are reading, some print textbooks are cheaper – buying used, e-books are difficult to navigate and bookmark, they do not require internet access, professors do not allow laptops or tablets in class, the availability of e-books can be limited, and students seem to often print out the pages of online and e-book readings anyways.

The students who like to read digitally versus having the tactile, physical experience referenced the fact that e-books are often cheaper, are lighter and searchable, are environmentally friendly, e-readers allow adjustable print size and brightness, text can be converted to audio, and these can often be used with apps.

In the end, it seems that, at least for now, print textbooks rule the world of higher education.

One student, Cooper Nordquist, a student studying political science at American University, commented that, “[he] couldn’t imagine reading Tocqueville, [the 900 plus-page, “Democracy in America”], or understanding him electronically. That would be just awful.”

Another commented that “You just get distracted. It’s like if I finish a paragraph, i’ll go on Tumblr, and then three hours later you’re still not done with reading.”



Are Technological Upgrades in the Classroom Worth the Investment?

By Kristen Hauck

In the ongoing race to “add value” and find new uses for digital media, many have turned an eye to education. Business and innovation magazine Fast Company reports on the growing presence of e-books, audio books, and unusual new applications of technology in classrooms throughout the U.S
( Several companies in particular are mentioned:

  • Booktrack, which creates customized soundtracks for e-books and has launched an educational version, Booktrack Classroom
  • MeeGenius, a service providing e-book subscriptions for young readers
  • RRKidz, and well-known literacy program Reading Rainbow, which has recently launched the Skybrary app connecting young readers with e-books and related media
  • Learn with Homer, a “learn to read” app targeting children ages 3-8
  • Google Classroom, a versatile paperless tool allowing teachers to post and grade assignments and interact with students
A girl uses her electronic tablet to study during class. (c) GPE/ Deepa Srikantaiah.
A girl uses her electronic tablet to study during class. (c) GPE/ Deepa Srikantaiah.

As noted in the article, schools are spending in excess of $10 billion to implement these products and many more into the curriculum. There’s some question, however, as to whether these really enhance the learning experience, or are merely a lot of bells and whistles that don’t translate to higher grades or better graduation rates. Is it necessary to replace standard textbooks with e-books and require students to spend even more time staring at screens that they already do? Is the reading experience one that really needs to be transformed, or are we depriving kids of the ability to enjoy the simple pleasure of reading a book? Is this a desperate (and outrageously expensive) attempt to grab students’ attentions away from their texts, Vines, and Snapchats?

Opinions vary widely, and if schools are to publishers and distributors little more than a marketplace, it falls to educators to be discerning and make thoughtful decisions about just which technologies to implement. The Fast Company article particularly questions the value of Booktrack and its mix of music and ambient sounds to complement the events and themes of a book, or of a student’s own creative writing (a reader may hear a running river when a scene in a story is set near a river, for example). Some new innovations undoubtedly enhance learning and more importantly give students greater access to reading materials, and most are backed by statistics to support their claims of demonstrable results. Learn with Homer’s website boasts, “Proven to Boost Scores up to 74%,” based on research from Harvard and Stanford Universities. And the Booktrack website’s “For Schools” section cites data from researchers at NYU and The University of Auckland asserting that reading with a soundtrack demonstrably increases student engagement and comprehension (if “engagement” is truly something that can be given a number value). In contrast, the CEO of BrightBytes, a research firm that studies which educational tools have an actual impact on learning, is quoted as saying that most of the multi-billion dollar investment in e-books and related applications has no direct impact on outcomes in the classroom.

It would be interesting to get students’ perspectives on these tools. The article’s slightly curmudgeonly writer yearns to hear T.S. Eliot’s poetry uncorrupted by musical accompaniment; teachers and parents are quoted remarking on children and teenagers, their attention spans, and their almost symbiotic reliance on electronic devices; and statistics are mentioned to support the notion of improved learning outcomes as a result of these new technologies, but these opinions and findings strike me as disconnected from the actual day-to-day experience of learning. Does setting the mood by adding the sound of ocean waves to Moby Dick truly make the text more engaging and easier to understand, or is it simply a fun distraction, a spoonful of sugar that makes the task more palatable? Will the words on the page, standing alone, ever be enough again?

Is Electronic Publishing the Future for the Education Market?

By Sherrie Wilkolaski

Publishers in the education market are looking to electronic publishing and other digital educational tools as a way to improve the learning process and manipulate their educational text. The printed textbook is starting to look a bit old-fashioned when you compare it to high-tech tablet in the classroom. Leading educational publishers are taking big steps to utilize technology when it comes to publishing. In early September, BookBusiness reported that, “Hachette Livre, the third-largest trade and educational publisher in the world, announced a partnership with leading adaptive learning company Knewton”.

The collaboration between Hachette Livre and Knewton is a step in the right direction and with both companies being industries leaders in what they do, I look forward to seeing what they can do together to improve the future of education. We’re living in a world where electronic information is free-flowing in all areas of life. Why should the education process be any different? As a current student who was looking for an online learning alternative, I was surprised to learn during my quest for an online graduate program, that more schools were not offering what I was looking for. There are many schools who are doing an excellent job at utilizing a virtual and electronic classroom, such as The George Washington University, but still there is room for growth.

Only days before the announcement of the Hachette Livre and Knewton partnership, McGraw Hill Education revealed they will be going public. They reach both the K-12 markets and higher education, and per the Insider Trading Report, they noted, McGraw Hill Education, “also makes products for specific needs of companies, academic institutions, libraries and hospitals.” They will be focusing on “developing educational content technology” and their announcement is another indicator that the educational publishing is looking to electronic publishing and technology as the future.

What does all this electronic publishing mean for students? Will electronic publishing ultimately create a better leaning environment? Will new learning technologies replace the textbook and provide a less expensive alternative? The overall electronic publishing market is still a new experience and collaboration between educators and students, will help to guide publishers and technology experts to create a positive learning environment.  Only time will tell.

To read an additional article published by the Washington Post about a GWU student’s textbook experience, check out the article, “How college students can save money on pricey textbooks” by Danielle Douglas-Gabriel.

Big Three Publishers rethink K-12 Strategies (EducationWeekly)

By Megan Bollinger

Education Weekly wrote an article a few years back about school districts transitioning to digital-based text books and curriculum and how some of the biggest textbook publishers were meeting new expectations.

According to the article, some school districts in the U.S. have decided to completely eliminate the publisher all together, while others are working with the publisher to develop a better product for their students.

An example of a school district that circumvents the publisher cited in the article is Vail School District in Arizona.

“We are not beholden at all to the big textbook publishers,” says Superintendent Calvin Baker. “We used to invest hundreds of thousands of dollars every year in the textbook cycle, but we don’t do that anymore.”

Instead, the school district creates its own curriculum by taking material from many different sources and all for free. It’s understandable that a school district trying to balance its budget with increasing difficulty each year would look to eliminate a big drain on its resources: textbooks. However, this process they employ should be of concern to everyone, not just those of us in the publishing industry. Without the publisher who takes on the responsibility of validating their materials, what assurances do those students and their parents have that they’re reading content that’s accurate?

Another approach documented in the article and taken by the Virginia Department of Education is to work with the publisher. When the iPad debuted and made its way into schools, head of the department, Tammy McGraw, reached out to the big textbook publishers and asked that they develop curriculum housed on the iPad. And they did. They worked directly with McGraw and Virginia students to learn what they wanted and needed in an e-textbook.

“We expect that right out of the gate they’re going to deliver something perfect,” McGraw says. “We have to do more to develop opportunities to give feedback to publishers, and we need to assume responsibilities for shaping better products.”
Publishers have been meeting the demands schools districts are placing on them for new and inventive learning tools. London-based Pearson bought up a company, SchoolNet, that provides personalized education software.

According to Luyen Chou, the chief product officer for K-12 technology at Pearson, the company’s strategy is “to create a technology platform that allows for digital content to be distributed to educators. The platform will be content-neutral so the digital curricula it will share with Pearson customers may not necessarily have been created by Pearson content specialists, and it may even be free.”

The article says Chou believes “there’s a new role for Pearson in curating and organizing electronic content and using its own experts to vouch for quality, particularly when it comes to open, or free, educational resources.”

That is the key. To survive the digital age, textbook publishers need to prove their companies value all over again. They must show educators that they can still provide quality educational material, at a cheap price, in the digital platforms their students demand.

Could book industry shortsightedness be to blame for hampering e-book access to blind students?

By Tiffany Arnold

It was recently reported that New York City school officials postponed a $30 million student e-book deal with Amazon due to concerns that its e-books aren’t fully accessible to blind students, adding to the growing list of shortcomings and challenges the industry faces when trying to define—and police—rights management in the digital age.

It’s also an indication that the industry could be doing more to make e-book technology accessible to everyone.

The New York Daily News reports that the city’s school board was set to vote on this e-book deal back in August, but the board held off after Baltimore-based National Federation of the Blind (NFB) threatened to protest the deal.  The organization’s chief complaint was that Amazon’s e-books aren’t fully accessible to students who are visually impaired.

This was something I never considered to be possible, considering the proliferation of audio books.

Our recent in-class discussion about book production touched on some of the issues those seeking to produce physical textbooks face when catering to blind students, and why e-books aren’t always the easy solution. But reading more about this actually angered me a bit. It made me realize how much I take for granted every time I read books on a digital device.

In researching for this post, I came across a Wired article published last year. This passage struck a particular nerve:

“For more than a decade, the visually-impaired have been locked in an excruciatingly slow and circuitous battle against US copyright laws. And it’s left the visually-impaired with few options but to hack their way around digital barriers—just for the simple pleasure of reading a book.”

My initial thinking was why is this even a thing? Why would anyone oppose making e-books accessible to blind people.

The truth is these people really do exists.

It seems some of the recent rancor stems from what happened back in 2009, when Amazon released a newer version of its Kindle device that came with an “experimental” text-to-speech feature. Not everybody liked this feature — which I found surprising.

“They don’t have the right to read a book out loud,” Paul Aiken, then the executive director of the Authors Guild, said of Amazon’s use of the feature in a Wall Street Journal article published shortly after the device’s release. “That’s an audio right, which is derivative under copyright law.” (See: New Kindle Audio Feature Causes a Stir)

Marc Maurer, who was president of the NFB at the time, refuted the claim that such technology infringed on copyright laws and said the Authors Guild’s stance was “harmful to blind people” in a statement released that same year.

Meanwhile, text-to-speech functionality eventually devolved and is now a mixed bag. Blind users often seek apps as go-betweens, but they still may not be getting all the features.

Ever since, the NFB has filed lawsuits against educational institutions that attempt to deploy Amazon devices as a means of distributing textbooks in e-book formats, arguing as they did in the latest NYC case, that such books aren’t fully accessible to those who are blind.

Talk about something that is broken.

The Accessible Technology Coalition, as with a few other organizations, offers a primer tech-accessible devices for the visually impaired at its website, A volley of letters between the NFB and the New York City public school board suggest that school officials are open to working together to find ways to make e-books accessible for all its students. (The correspondences have been posted on the NFB’s website; here’s a link to one of the more recent letters)

But it seems it shouldn’t have to be this way. It makes me wonder whether there’s some sort of law that could compel e-book formats to be made accessible. It just seems like something needs to change.

Textbook Alternatives

By: Brittany Dirks

With the digital age upon us and ebooks on the rise, entire school districts are moving towards alternatives to textbooks in K-12. “Digital is more common at the college level,” but K-12 districts have been slower to respond. According to a survey by McGraw-Hill “found that districts have support” from parents, a “key group” in the move to ebooks.

The survey also found that 73% of those parents “believe traditional textbooks move too slowly to stay relevant,” while 80% believe digital learning will make difficult concepts easier to grasp. This might be because of the possibility of interactive multimedia: videos, slideshows, and audio could drastically change how students learn.

But there are many alternatives out there; here’s a summary of four popular options.

Discovery Education

This is one of the biggest players in ebooks in education. “Over a million students in 50 states” use what it calls “Techbooks,” a clever term that will undoubtedly help its market. It focuses on math and science Techbooks, and some of their newest releases are “supposed to help teachers align instruction” to the new Common Core standards.

The math Techbook, specifically, “is focused on real world problems” and also incorporates interactive instruction.

See below for the video from Discovery Education about their Math Techbook.

McGraw-Hill Education

McGraw-Hill takes a different approach: adaptive learning. This is based on adapting the difficulty of questions “based on students’ progress,” allowing them to review material they’ve read in the form of answering questions.

Like Discovery Education, McGraw-Hill has partnered with schools—Ohio’s Columbus City Schools, to be specific—to “help the district adapt to the Common Core standards.” It will focus on a “hybrid model” by providing copies of its textbooks to homework help centers in the public libraries.

See below for the video from McGraw-Hill Education about their Interactive Digital Textbooks.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Despite the company’s bankruptcy—from which they exited in 2012—has “bought up smaller entities” focused on digital learning approaches. It has actually even aquired some of Scholastic’s division on education technology.

The company focuses on textbooks for Kindle, iPad, and most other e-readers, which could be “useful for districts using a patchwork of devices.” A district in Oregen chose to use the digital math textbooks to help it align to Common Core.

See the below video about Fairfax County iBooks Pilot Video.


This nonprofit foundating “curates and aggregates open-source FlexBooks” that are “made by teachers and experts.” The products are free, and even customizable. The STEM products are the most popular.

The company works with districts to “assemble content” in a way that works best for each one.

Please see below for the FlexBooks Overview.

Ebooks are taking education by storm, and K-12 will likely catch up to college’s digital atmosphere in no time.

Schools in India Switching to E-Textbooks and E-Libraries

By: Kathryn Martorana

computerbook  E-books have been increasing in popularity over the last few years. E-textbooks have also been going up as well for college students across the United States. However, it seems that the idea of portable textbooks and other literature are slowly making their way into public schools. The Hindu, and Indian newspaper, is reporting that some school districts there are converting their physical textbooks to e-textbooks and online accessed material. Some are favoring these e-books over the traditional format, and are even looking at converting their entire school library to an e-library.The two main arguments for making the switch are less book load for students, and the ease of accessing materials at home and in the classroom.

Reading books and other material online, or on an e-reader, are a great benefit because you can carry around a multitude of them without heavy strain with backpack or bag, and you can have immediate access to multiple sources and titles. As a college student or working professional this is ideal because you can have access to all your textbooks, supplementary reading, and reference books without having to carry all of them. This helps when you need one source for one small bit in an entire paper, or for a specific instance on the job.

However, the idea of making e-textbooks for public education is starting to make a path for itself in the market. As The Hindu reports, schools in India have already started making this transition. They claim that it puts less of a book load on the students backpacks. Everyone who traveled sixth through twelfth grade knows that textbooks for classes are thick and heavy. We dreaded having homework in three or more classes a night that required the book, or even multiple nooks, and lugging home not only our personal things like notebooks, binders, pens and pencils, but then three or more heavy books home and then back again the next day. This puts great strain on the spine, especially for the younger children who’s bodies are not done growing and maturing.

bookbackpack(taken from article found on The Hindu)

The other concept for reducing book load for kids is the book load they have when traveling class to class.  The average travel time between classes is about five minutes. Imagine having your locker on the opposite side of the school from my your class that you have to run to and then run back across the school for your next class. Five minutes may not be enough, but the other option is to carry around multiple heavy books and other school items at the same time while running from class to class. Having e-textbooks and online materials helps to alleviate some of these issues.

Not only having these materials reduce backpack load and travel with books for students, but the article also points our that it makes access within the classroom easier. Smartboards are now very common in classrooms not only in the United States, but across the world. Having e-textbooks and online accessed material makes it so the children can read the material at home or wherever they have access to them, and then the teacher can pull up the same material at school. This helps so that children who forget their books are not lost in class, or have to share with a classmate, and makes the transition between subjects int he classroom faster and easier.

Original source material found at