Electronic textbooks that
transform how textbooks are
Department of Computer Science, Hope College, Holland, Michigan, USA
Purpose – This paper’s goals are to motivate the design of an electronic textbook that seeks to
transform how textbooks are used inside and outside the classroom. In particular, it seeks to show
that merely creating an electronic form of an existing paper textbook is not a sufﬁciently
motivating condition for instructors and students to move from paper to electronic textbooks, and
doing so misses much of the opportunities presented by electronic media to enhance learning from
Design/methodology/approach – An electronic textbook application running on Microsoft’s
TabletPC operating system was implemented and used as the primary text in three offerings of an
Introductory Computer Science course, with one section used as a control group. Student learning was
assessed via course examinations and overall grades, and student perceptions and use of the textbook
were assessed via surveys.
Findings – No signiﬁcant differences in student learning or textbook usage were observed between
students using the electronic and paper versions of the textbook. The surveys indicated a generally
neutral reaction to the electronic textbook.
Research limitations/implications – The number of students used to evaluate the electronic
textbook’s effectiveness was small, and the text was not evaluated in multiple types of courses.
Practical implications – Instructors often teach and assess students in such a way that reading the
text is not required for success. If instructors continue to assign textbooks, a way must be found to
motivate their use and improve the way students use them.
Originality/value – This paper gives guidance to those seeking to design and implement electronic
books in an educational setting.
Keywords Electronic books, Education
Paper type Viewpoint
Textbooks have been used as the primary means of delivering course content in
secondary and higher education institutions since the widespread availability of the
printing press. However, it seems that textbooks are becoming less and less useful,
both to students and instructors.
The pace of information generation has accelerated signiﬁcantly in the past 50
years, and the size of the textbook has increased accordingly. It has become
increasingly difﬁcult to ﬁnd a textbook that effectively covers the topics for a
particular course, without requiring a textbook that is many hundreds of pages long
and contains material not related to the course’s central focus. This has become even
truer as courses become more and more interdisciplinary in nature, particularly in the
Authors and publishers of textbooks make at least two important choices when
choosing the content and organization of a textbook. These choices are the level and
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The Electronic Library
Vol. 23 No. 1, 2005
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