The future of booksIf you look back at your own education history, there’s a good chance that, somewhere down the line, a piece of technology was introduced that you just had to see for yourself. Depending on when you were in school, this could have been something like a VCR, the first PC in class, or the first computer with an internet connection. Some of those technologies may seem quaint in retrospect, but at the time, especially in the eyes of students, they were quite impressive. Typically, there is a natural urge to try the new, shiny thing, followed by a period during which you learn about the actual, productive ways the new thing can be used for learning (and fun). Eventually, the new thing becomes a common, fully integrated part of education, and soon enough the next shiny thing will be introduced to great fanfare. This basic process doesn’t cover every student, or every technology, but it is a solid starting point in looking at how students react to technology. Compared to the 1980s and 1990s, today’s technological advancements seem to be coming at a much faster rate. In addition, most students now first experience new technology outside of the classroom, which wasn’t always the case in the past. These factors combine to change student expectations regarding technology. Instead of new technology being novel and mysterious, it is now often understood and expected before it ever reaches classrooms. Increased expectations are a positive thing in many ways, as most students are ready to use new technology to its full potential soon after it hits the classroom. The other side of the coin is that increased expectations raise the stakes on integrating new technology as soon as possible, since technology has fundamentally changed how information is consumed. Is it any wonder that a generation of students who never knew a time without internet access would have difficulty learning from static textbooks? A recent study sheds some light on the general reaction of college students to a specific technology, eTexts. This study took place in early 2012, and several prominent US universities took part, including Cornell, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Indiana. While this study focused specifically on eTextbooks, the results help shed some data-based light on how students view new technology in the classroom. The basic concept of the study was to compare student views of eTextbooks and traditional texts, in a number of categories. While there was a natural learning curve, to be expected with any new technology, the results of the study indicate a number of advantages for eTextbooks. In fitting with the theme of this analysis, one of the major advantages students reported with eTexts was portability. Nearly four in five students reported that eTexts were more portable than traditional texts. These students also indicated that the ability to read eTexts on a number of devices was beneficial. Another cited eText advantage was the ability to annotate, highlight, and make notes more easily with eTexts than traditional textbooks. Some students did report difficulty reading the eTexts on the screens of computers or mobile devices. This issue could be resolved, however, simply by speech-enabling these eTexts. That way, students would face no limit to consuming information in the way that works best for them. A common, overarching theme also arose throughout the study. Whether students reported a preference for eTextbooks or traditional texts, all agreed that the level to which instructors took advantage of eText features correlated directly with the level of value students found in using eTexts. When instructors failed to embrace the technology, students often followed suit. On the other hand, when instructors utilized unique features, especially the ability to highlight specific, important areas of eTexts, students found the technology much more beneficial. This observation is important to keep in mind when considering any type of new technology in the classroom. Technology is an excellent tool, but it is not a magic solution. For any new technology to truly benefit students, instructors need to use it effectively and integrate it in creative ways. This is not necessarily surprising, but it does highlight the fact that, no matter what type of new technology or teaching method is introduced in a classroom, quality instruction is still of vital importance. Indeed, advances in education are most successful when the student, the instructor, and the available technology all work in concert toward the same goal. Image Credit: Johan Larsson