A study of college students required to use digital textbooks for an online course revealed something that should have been obvious: Students who typically spent a lot of time online—whether for studying or socializing—preferred the e-texts over hardcopy books, while students who went online less often would rather use print textbooks.
The study, which appeared in Education magazine and was conducted at the University of Texas at El Paso, also determined that the students who favored print were at no disadvantage in the class due to the digital requirement. Students preferring p-texts earned about the same average grades as the other students, suggesting they managed to get over any discomfort with the digital format.
Some students in the class had previously taken at least one other online course with e-textbooks, while for other students it was their first experience with a totally online class. As with the format preferences, though, there was no difference in student performance. The researchers also found that age, class year, courseload, and English-language skills had no impact on student success in the online course.
The heavy online users were able to understand instructions for accessing course content and e-texts more quickly than students who didn’t have as much experience online, although ultimately that didn’t affect their class performance either.
However, students did have a number of quibbles with digital textbooks, which led the research team to recommend some fixes for publishers and instructors.
“E-texts should be absolutely free of technical glitches,” stated the study report. “It also should provide tools that students can use for studying, such as highlighting, page marking, making notes in a text file, and a launch path (or a progress bar) to access another section quickly.” Both publishers and professors should provide supplementary print booklets and resources to aid students with e-texts.
For students, the study advised “it is wise to order an e-text with the optional free loose-leaf and hole-punched print version. This would enable students who find it difficult to read for long periods of time on the computer screen, or experience difficulties when their Internet is not working, to have access to material which is comfortable to use while learning.”