Today’s classroom is
quickly moving into the digital age. Libraries are becoming digital media
centers; chalkboards are being replaced by digital whiteboards; and homework
hotlines have been substituted with class websites. Textbooks, however, are
maintaining their grasp in the classroom… for now.
EBooks, in some form or another, have been around since 1971 when Michael Hart
created a digital version of The Declaration of Independence and used it as the
first entry in what would become Project Gutenberg, one of the largest
providers of free, open-source eBooks in the world today. More recently, eBooks
have become more popular and prevalent with the explosion of e-readers such as
Amazon.com’s Kindle, Barnes and Noble’s Nook, and tablets like the iPad.
This technology is
also starting to find a foothold in schools. Dawn Jasper, a librarian and media
specialist at West Deptford High School in West Deptford, New Jersey, was quick
to praise the benefits of eBooks in schools.
“Students are always interested in immediate feedback, immediate access, and
with eBooks, they can access the material they need at any time, even when the
library is closed,” Jasper explains.
With more and more students doing research at home and access to the Internet
becoming more prevalent across the country, the advantage of eBooks becomes
even more clear. Not long ago, school libraries were lucky to have two copies
of a popular text. With eBooks, several students can access the text all at
once, from almost any location.
Jasper notes, “These eBooks are conveniently portable and mobile, and can
usually be more cost-effective for schools.”
Less than a decade ago, stores sold backpacks with shelves built in to help
students carry their books more safely. Indeed, it seems we were “raising a
generation of future hunchbacks” (Abram 2010). With e-readers, students can
carry thousands of books on a small portable device, or access them on
computers at school and home, and carry nothing in between!
The cost-effectiveness of eBooks also shouldn’t be overlooked. Districts across
the country are slashing budgets, and accessing open-source versions of classic
literature at no cost is obviously better for the bottom line than buying a new
set ofThe Count of Monte Cristo every five years. Further,
subscriptions to an eBook library are less expensive than buying every book
available in that library.
EBooks have several advantages over paper books in the classroom. For one,
students can take notes in-line with the digital text, and immediately share
their notes with other students. Many eBook readers also offer built-in
dictionaries so that students can look up a confusing word or passage without
getting lost or falling behind. Whether using a dedicated reader or a computer,
students can make use of a search feature, saving time when looking for a
particular passage, scene, or character.
As more and more information becomes digitized, it is important that students
become familiar with these utilities. By and large, using eBooks in the
classroom does not need to be particularly different from using hard copies.
After all, the purpose of eBooks is not to change the face of literature.
Instead, it is to change the way we access and interact with books for the
better. If technology suddenly makes reading a “cool” thing to do, then this
should be celebrated in the classroom. The software is engaging, flexible, and
user-friendly, especially to children who have grown up in a world of pdfs and
As Jasper notes, “There are many students who will not pick up any type of book
for pleasure—maybe eBooks will interest some.”