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eBooks for Education

  Terence Cavanaugh, Ph.D. Curriculum and Instruction, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL USA. tcavanau@unf.edu


Cathy Cavanaugh, Ph.D. Curriculum and Instruction, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, FL USA. ccavanau@unf.edu


Abstract: An eBook is a form of publishing in a digital medium. Because reading is a basic component of most educational activities, providing alternative formats and supports for reading activities becomes necessary to reach all students, especially special need students and distance learning classes.   Digital or electronic text offers options such as Text-to-Speech that provide users additional modalities for receiving the information.  New tools now allow readers to interact with the text to the extent of taking notes, marking, highlighting, drawings, bookmarks, searching, and even interacting with associated dictionaries.  With modern editors eBooks can be easily created from web or word-processed documents.  By creating their own eBooks and using available online libraries, instructors can expand the accessibility and ease of use both for themselves and their students.



The eBook



eBooks are text documents that have been converted and “published” in a digital format that display on specialized reading devices or computers. EBooks have two basic components, hardware and software.  The hardware, known as a reader, is a special computer style device or program that displays the “book” on a screen, and the software contains all of the content: text, pictures, and other information.  Today there are many online libraries of electronic text and online sellers of electronic books.  eBooks can be purchased and downloaded to an eBook reading device.  While competing formats exist, the capabilities of eBook readers and creation programs have expanded and improved.  Initially an eBook was a single web page read by scrolling.  Today’s eBooks, some of which are still published in “classic” pure text or html formats, have exceeded that single page design.  Today’s eBook formats and their “readers” present text in a more user-friendly style.  EBooks and readers display book content page by page in a portrait orientation, allow users to adjust text size, remember where reading stopped to enable continuation from that point, allow readers to take notes within the book, highlight portions of the text, add drawings, look up definitions, and read the book aloud.  The books are no longer limited to computers connected to the internet, but can also be stored and read on laptops, pocket computers using Window’s CE and Palm operating systems, and eBook reading devices like the RocketBook and eBookMan from Franklin.  The variety of reading devices allows people to access eBooks anywhere.  It is possible for a person to carry his or her own personal or professional library in a pocket for anytime access, storing the books on a computer chip.


The ability of some eBooks to use Text-to-Speech programs offers users an additional modality for receiving the information.  According to CAST (Center for Applied Special Technology), in order “to reach learners with disparate backgrounds, interests, styles, abilities, disabilities, and levels of expertise” educational materials should be flexible and adaptable for all learning styles (1998). Studies have found advantages of using electronic text technology applications with struggling readers because of the nature of electronic text over paper-based (McKenna, Reinking, Labbo, & Kieffer 1999). Anderson-Inman and Horney (1998) indicated that students benefit from the scaffolding advantages of voice output, online dictionaries, and note taking offered by electronic text to achieve success in learning. Standard print text can create a barrier for dyslexic and visually impaired students. Ebooks make information more accessible to students with disabilities. Material in digital form offers many advantages for students with or without disabilities.


Unique features

EBooks have features that traditional paper books do not – users can control the look and feel of the eBook,  and also save notes, highlights, and drawings within the eBook.  Another advantage is size; the amount of text in a book takes no additional space in an eBook, and the only limit on the number of books that can be stored is the memory available. A study conducted by Simmons College researchers found that the average weight of a backpack in middle school was twenty pounds, and that more than half of the participating students carried loads that were heavier than 15 percent of their body weight (Petracco 2001).  Doctors suggest that to avoid injuring the body, never carry more than ten percent of bodyweight (ICPA 1998).  The ability to carry many books, references, and resources electronically allows users to make better use of the information, with just-in-time educational advantages.  According to one eBook company, using the PDF format a gigabyte of storage could contain over “200 illustrated college reference books, or 350 legal volumes, or about 2,500 600-page novels” (Munyan 1998). The eBook system allows users to have volumes of information either at their desktop or within their pocket.  Distributing paper documents among colleagues or students traditionally requires expense in both time and money.  EBook files can easily be sent through e-mail or made available on the web. 


Education applications



Using an eBook in the educational setting is no different than using a printed material.  Electronic text can be books, documents, articles, reading lists, reference material, anything that is usually printed on paper.  EBook files can be distributed to students through a variety of methods including internet and discs.  Instructors could compile student reading material from a variety of sources such for students’ access on either handheld devices or computers.  The use of handheld devices adds a level of mobility and access to reference that was heretofore impossible, which makes this format ideal for distance education students, or students who cannot otherwise use paper based materials.  The eBooks and reader can act as a personal reference library for students, allowing constant access to resources. Currently numerous online libraries and bookstores distribute freely or sell eBooks which range from copyright free texts that include much of classic literature, science and philosophy to current best sellers, reference books, and instruction manuals.  Instructors can add notes, advance organizers, comments and questions to the texts before converting them to eBook format. As the material is in electronic format, students can copy and paste information to use in reports, to take notes, or for analysis.  Some readers allow annotations, enabling a student to take notes within the book, allow bookmarking of locations within the text and have interactive dictionaries for just-in-time learning.  Instructors could distribute annotation files for texts that make adaptations for special needs students, such as highlighting and providing graphic organizers, or the annotation file could contain specific questions for students to answer and return.


EBooks allow instructors to carry with them and have at their desktop or handheld computers a professional library, with texts, sites, articles, and writings.  Instructors could carry all their course syllabi, along with course packets, and possibly textbooks and reference materials, available at an instant’s notice anywhere.  Educators can easily create and carry with them their own professional portfolio or could convert a student’s work into an eBook for portability, then evaluate or edit it by making comments using the annotation features and send it back to the students with the annotation file for review.  An instructor can read a book, highlighting important sections, adding comments, book marking important locations and then have the student read that book, with the instructor’s annotation file providing the student with an advance organizer including comments and directions. 


eBook formats



EBooks come in a variety of formats, some of which are platform or device specific, while others are cross platform.  HTML or text based eBooks are ready to use in standard browsers and users can adjust text styles, size, and colors. With HTML or text it is possible to search within the book, and copy and paste selected text to other programs. Adobe PDF eBooks are accessible to most operating systems, including Macintosh and Windows, for viewing and printing.  The PDF format allows for page navigation, multiple viewing options, adding bookmarks, and searching. Many consider the Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) a standard for electronic distribution worldwide, as PDF files are compact and can be easily shared, viewed, navigated, and printed using a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat. Palm eBooks can be read on Palm handheld devices and their format allows for various fonts and font sizes, controlling the amount of text on the screen. Microsoft Reader eBooks are compatible with Windows (95+) operating systems for desktop and laptop computers as well as handheld devices. Microsoft Reader uses a technology called “ClearType” to make words on screen appear more like print. The MS Reader's navigation system allows for multiple methods of page navigation and will remember where readers have stopped.  The MS Reader allows creation of annotation files for the text that allows various colored bookmarks and highlights, searching, and dictionary lookup features.  MS Reader’s current desktop and laptop versions can also read text aloud.


Making and finding eBooks



Many tools are available at no cost to convert existing electronic text into eBook formats for use on readers.  Microsoft distributes for free a plug-in for MS Word 2000 that allows users to change any MS Word document into eBook format for the Microsoft Reader.  Palm has DropBook, which is a program for Windows and Macintosh that allows conversion of a text file to the Palm Markup Language for reading with the Palm Reader.  Another program, ReaderWorks, allows users to convert documents, publications, web pages, and books into MS Reader (.lit) format.  There is even a form of ReaderWorks online which users can access to convert their documents and then download the new reader files.  Also there are many free libraries and other organizations that contain and make available a large number of eBooks.  One is Project Gutenberg, which is the oldest of the online book repositories with over 4000 copyright free publications, and University of Virginia’s E-Book Library which distributes on average over 9000 eBooks per day.


The future



The electronic book is by no means finished in its development.  Hopefully in the future there will come a time when one content format is finally agreed upon.  Currently companies are working on adding audio, video, and text-to-speech components for eBook software.  Online bookstores are expanding their holdings of eBooks, with some of the college bookstore organizations including eBook forms of texts.  As handheld computing devices continue to improve in their abilities and continue expand their market, it is expected that eBooks will expand with them.





Adobe Systems Incorporated (2001) Adobe eBook Reader. Available online at http://www.adobe.co.uk/products/ebookreader/main.html

Anderson-Inman, L. & Horney,  M. A.. (1998). Transforming text for at-risk readers. In D. Reinking, et al. (Eds.), Handbook of Literacy and Technology: Transformations in a Post-Typographic World. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates

Petracco, P. A. (2000) Weighing in on Backpacks. Available online at: http://www.njsba.org/members_only/publications/school_leader/May-June-2001/info_link.htm

CAST (2001) Universal Design for Learning Consortium Envisions Improved Outcomes for Children . Available online at http://www.cast.org/about/ResearchandDissemination435.cfm

ICPA - International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (2001) Backpacks… Your Child’s Spine Is At Risk. Available online at: http://www.4icpa.org/Articles/Nov98a.htm 

McKenna, M. (1998). Electronic texts and the transformation of beginning reading. In D. Reinking, M. McKenna, L. D. Labbo, & R. Kieffer (Eds.). Handbook of literacy and technology:  Transformations in a post-typographic world. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

Microsoft (2001) Microsoft eBooks and Microsoft Reader.  Available online at http://www.microsoft.com/ebooks/default.asp

Munyan, J. (1998). Proceedings from first international etext conference

OverDrive Inc. (2001) eBook Tools.  Available online at http://www.overdrive.com/tools.asp

Palm (2001) Palm Digital Media.  Available online at http://www.peanutpress.com/makebook/index.cgi/010192982-88905-65188.

Project Gutenberg (2001) Project Gutenberg Official Home Site.  Available online at http://www.promo.net/pg/

University of Virginia's E-Book Library  (2001) Electronic Text Center.  Available online at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/