The Rise of the E-Book

By Christine LaPlaca


In recent years, there has been a shift in classroom learning and the college learning experience. A college student’s experience is now affected by the emergence of new technology, which is being integrated into the classroom in the form of computers, e-readers, videos, and other digital media.


This technology has challenged the importance of the traditional classroom setting. According to Jeffrey R. Young in “Actually Going to Class, for a Specific Course? How 20th Century” from the Chronicle of Higher Education, “much of what students rate as the most valuable part of their learning experience at college these days takes place outside the traditional classroom.” With the emergence of new media, students are able to learn more outside the classroom than in it.


Young also explains that classroom learning is already evolving due to students’ demands, resulting in “a better understanding of how students learn, and a new generation of faculty members trying tech-infused teaching methods.” One form of technology that has affected the college learning experience is the e-book. Rather than purchasing printed copies of textbooks, many professors and schools offer electronic copies of class materials.


As classrooms and educational institutions rely more on new media and technology, the e-book has the potential to overtake printed textbooks in the future. According to Tom Malek in “Solving the E-book Problem in Higher Education from Forbes, e-books “have the potential to save students money, they’re a lot easier to carry around, and because today’s students seem to prefer digital to print when it comes to just about everything else, it followed that they’d feel the same way about textbooks.”


E-books are a valuable asset to classroom learning and the changing learning experience of college students. Malek explains that “e-books are delivered through online platforms that house all of the course materials that a student needs for class, including his or her syllabus, homework assignments, grades, and study tools.” The availability of all these tools and information in one place has the potential to help students learn more effectively.


While e-books are useful for college students, there are also down sides to purchasing textbooks in non-print form. Technology is not always as reliable as print material. E-readers lose battery power, computers shut down, and information may be lost. However, printed texts are readily available for students because the problems associated with technology do not affect print materials.


In addition, even though students advocate other forms of technology — laptops, iPhones, iPods, smart phones — they seem to reject the e-book. Malek points out that only “about three percent of college students are purchasing e-books.” This is due to the fact that “when it comes to studying, students have shown a strong preference for the familiar, and are often reluctant to give up print something they’ve been accustomed to their entire lives.”


While e-books are a logical technological progression, especially in regards to the inclusion of new technologies in classrooms, e-publishing poses a problem for academic texts. E-publishing for academic texts is behind the publishing of novels as e-books. According to Carol Saller’s blog “Why Your Printed Book Isn’t an E-Book (Yet) for the Chronicle of Higher Education, those who publish academic books face three obstacles in e-publishing: technology, rights, and money.


Problems posed by e-publishing and students’ and professors’ resistance to fully leave the classroom setting mean that conventional ways of teaching will continue to exist in the coming years. In Young’s article, John Maeda states that “colleges themselves will continue to work because they bring smart, motivated students together with experts in a single community.”


Despite ideas like UnCollege, a program that Young explains will charge students a fee to “gain access to the website and a network of mentors,” traditional colleges will remain. The same is true for the use of printed textbooks. Saller points out that “academic books tend to feature more complex elements,” like “maps, tables, graphs, and appendixes” which pose a challenge for e-readers and thus make it less likely that some academic texts will be available as electronic copies.


Technology will continue to influence the classroom environment and the college learning experience. While many new methods will be considered in the coming decade, for now traditional methods of teaching still survive in educational institutions. It is possible that one day classroom learning will no longer be necessary, as the student’s learning experience continually moves beyond those four walls. In the immediate future, though, the familiarity of a classroom setting and printed textbooks will continue to thrive.


Christine LaPlaca is a senior at the University of Mary Washington majoring in English and Asian Studies. The University of Mary Washington is home to the Kappa of Virginia chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.