E-textbooks and laptop juggling

Hold your laptop on its end, like an open book, for thirty minutes. How are your arms and wrists feeling? This and other questions regarding etextbooks and the roles that academic libraries may play in classroom readings.

On my way back from lunch, I saw a student sitting on the library terrace with her thirteen-inch MacBook Pro propped on her lap, on it’s end, like an open book. She had rotated a PDF document ninety degrees and was using the arrow keys to scroll through the document. My wrists ache just thinking about it.

Ergonomics of laptop balancing aside, this reminded me of a recent article reporting that students participating in the etextbook pilot prefer reading print texts to electronic. Brad Wheeler, who is spearheading the etext pilot at IU, is confident that students will grow to prefer e-textbooks because of the better functionality possible with etextbooks (not to mention the cheaper price–at least 35% less than print).

I did a little reading up on eTexts at IU and looked in to the features provided by the Courseload platform. It supports all of the things I like to do with my electronic texts: searching, bookmarking, annotating. The annotations offered via Courseload are a bit beefier with options to tag, add notes with links, and embed media. Students can view annotations that the instructor has chosen to share with the class and students may opt to share annotations with the instructor or other students. Etexts and annotations are available offline and sync with Oncourse when a connection is available. Students have access to etexts and their annotations for as long as they are a student at IU. Students may opt to print etextbooks or receive a professional bound copy from publishers for a fee.

I wonder what the laptopbook student thinks about the eText initiative. Does she get frustrated by the device or software she uses to read her etexts? Does she take advantage of annotation tools? Does the etext platform help her collaborate with other students more effectively? Is collaboration a priority for her or her instructor? Does she have a genetic predisposition to carpal tunnel syndrome?

I annotate PDFs and EPUB files frequently but I’m not sure how many of my colleagues do so, or whether they use annotated documents for collaborative work. I have a favorite go-to app on my mobile devices to annotate PDFs. I also annotate texts on my desktop, although not as often. I would find it grating to have to use another app and have all of my annotations siloed off in a place separate from all of my other documents. I would also be greatly concerned about whether I actually owned the content I was creating or not. It is unclear whether students or instructors are even able to export their notes and annotations upon leaving IU.