After our immersion into the domain of eTextbooks we found two directions of innovation for the eTextbook of the future. The interviews conducted in the first week of the course pointed out that a lot of readers/students still preferred traditional (hard-copy) books over the digital alternative. Arguments frequently heard are that readers “like holding a book better” as opposed to an eReader. And that reading from a screen gives them significant eye strain.
These results showed us that eTextbook should deliver some additional value over traditional books to convince students to start using them. We came up with two fields of improvement which could help transform how students use eTextbooks.
From our surroundings we know many students who suffer from Dyslexia (developmental reading disorder). There are difficulties when developing aid material for people with Dyslexia, first off “there is no consensus as to who might be described as ‘dyslexic’” and “prevalence estimates for Dyslexia are susceptible to definitional manipulation over a wide range”. However we still know from experience in talking with fellow students that many of them experience difficulties while reading because of their (form of) Dyslexia. And the tools integrated for people with Dyslexia can also help people who do not suffer from this disorder. We interpret Dyslexia as broad as possible so our innovative tools will help as many as possible. Our first vision is to adapt eTextbooks to aid people suffering from Dyslexia while reading.
Another annoyance detected among students is the pricing and availability of textbooks. “Many college students today have yearly textbook bills of $800-$900.” Textbooks are “ often at a price of $100 or more”. Students expect digital alternative of the textbook to be cheaper, but reality is that prices in the digital bookstores are comparable to prices of the books in traditional stores. Even used books can still be a significant investment for students. An article in Nature magazine points in one direction for (e)Textbook publishing that could transform how students obtain their reading materials “A more radical idea is to offer textbooks for free, without rights restrictions.”. These books “will be free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under a creative commons licence.” These books are known as open-source books, and have advantages not only for the students, but also for authors and teachers.
1 - The eTextbooks has tools targeted to help people with Dyslexia.
A commonly found suggestion about product design is that it should support the extremes (users with less common needs) in order to support all the spectrum of users. With the technology opportunity we are exploring (for example, big data for profiling of the users), we can support innovative features that cover the special users’ needs. The most frequent learning disorder that is related to reading tasks is Dyslexia (indeed two of the people we met this week for an interview, suffer from Dyslexia and many of our friends do).
Through audio books or other forms of innovative features, the e-book of the future must be a step further from the paper book in the support of learning disorders. By keeping ourselves aware of this orientation we are working towards a direction, where we may produce a more enjoyable experience to the general audience of the product.
We may argue that for this kind of ‘extreme’ user, we may end up idealizing a product that has too much focus on specific needs over possible additional features that satisfy the majority of the public. As these kind of learning disorders are very common and a typical learning environment (classes consisting of around 20 students) contains a great variety of individuals with regard for these characteristics, this enforces our vision on this topic.
During our co-creation session we brainstormed about possible tools technology could provide to aid people with Dyslexia (there was somebody with Dyslexia among the 6 students in the room). The idea that seems to be the most innovative is an eTextbook that measures readers while they are reading (by for example tracking eye movement). These measures can be used to give the reader feedback on their progress and , but also show authors where there readers get distracted.
2 - eTextbooks will be distributed open-source under a creative-commons license
With the current trend of open sourcing books (analogous to the open source software), the need for this kind of support in the ebook of the future sounds at least plausible. The main advantages would be the cost reduction to the reader, the possibility for diverging editions of a book (in opposition to a linear evolution: 1st edition, 2nd edition, etc.), and ultimately more global knowledge exchange (which indeed generates more learning).
Without the authority of a profit driven publisher publishing books, fear exists that the quality of the books and their content will suffer, because of this the extent at which books are open source must be discussed. The need for a peer review system to assure quality of these books was expressed by our interviewees. Without such a system they were worried the quality standards would not be met. We include such a mechanism and also a mechanism for tracking changes and controlling the versions in our vision.
In almost every course only a subset of the total of chapters of a book is required, in addition often other references are suggested (e.g. academic or industry papers, websites) making the whole set of reading contents with too many heterogeneous sources and with it possible sources of a decreased effectiveness of the readers (while navigating through the sources), in our vision the ebook of the future would have this concern addressed in its design.
It may be also a recurrent task across many teachers in the same type of courses to making such compilation of the contents, for which the open source of this compilation would be beneficial. At a global level, some popular compilations that can be shared with less resourceful communities in order to improve their access to knowledge.
The main issue with all of this is of course is ‘money’, how will authors still profit from their publications? Nature magazine addresses this as follows “Still, perhaps ‘free’ and ‘profitable’ need not be a contradiction in terms.” So it is possible to have free books and still make a profit, the open-source programming community has been making money of their ‘free’ creations for years. Either by receiving donations from companies, or selling additional materials (this can be consultancy or an improved version of the software). Authors of open-source books could be doing the same and be making more money than by selling their textbook through a respected publisher: “Authors generally receive about $11.60 on a $100 book”
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