The Whole iPad as Digital Textbook Discussion Misses the Point

I'm in the middle of a look at digital textbooks and how a student could best use them. In looking at this from the student viewpoint, I've noticed something that I think has escaped most people running the digital textbook pilot programs.Why limit yourself to only one screen?

I was reading this past week about Reed College, a private school that recently used the iPad in a pilot program. You might recall that they ran a similar pilot last year, only then they used the KDX. They liked the iPad a lot more than the KDX, but they made the same mistake as before; they limited themselves to the one screen.

Have you ever had 4 or 5 books open at once (reference manuals, textbooks, etc)? How exactly do you do that if they're all digital and they're all on  the one iPad? That's my concern.

It's only fair that I point out that having digital textbooks on multiple devices is relatively new.  When the Kindle DX pilot programs were conceived (for the 2009-2010 school year),  the only Kindle options were K2, KDX, and Kindle 4 iPhone. I don't think K4PC had been released yet. There also wasn't a good desktop app for Epub at that time, nor was there a large screen device that could read it.

But in the past year that has changed. Now there are apps on every device that read every format. From the viewpoint of a student you almost don't need a dedicated hardware device anymore. The reading apps on my PC are pretty damn good (both Kindle and Epub). Also, given that you can find a compatible app to read Kindle or Epub on iOS or Android, I'd have to say that the ereader hardware has largely become redundant.

What do you think?

image by mortsan

About Nate Hoffelder (11598 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

7 Comments on The Whole iPad as Digital Textbook Discussion Misses the Point

  1. I recall having to buy my textbooks in college. I also remember how expensive books were too. One class, three books? Can the app take notes?

    Isn’t Reed the college where Steve Jobs audited some courses, learned about typography, all that?

  2. A tablet is a single “window” in terms of a conventional windowing OS. How often do you have only one window open on your desktop?
    This is my problem with the whole $500+ tablet market, it focuses people on having one gold plated “Jack of All Trades” tablet.
    On the other hand the <$200 tablet market particularly the efforts by the Indian government and Media Lab/OLPC folks for a ~$50 tablet is very interesting. At that price you can have multiple pads. Now consider having several pads running which are aware of each other and meshed together via WiFi or Bluetooth in conjunction with your desktop and/or Smart HDTV.

  3. I am a current University level student.

    Many times when I am comparing information I will use my laptop to look at different sides of an idea on what is stated in an ebook textbook that I am reading for a class on my Nook.

    I use my Nook to read many of the articles that I have found on the internet and saved into a PDF files I usually do this for any article that is more than a few pages long, making certain that I keep careful note of everything I will need to add into my footnotes or citations for papers.

    I think that many of the highest rated education countries around the world focus on having laptops/pads/tablets available to their students. When I am on my laptop I usually have 5 to 12 different windows/applications/programs running at the same time. 2 to 4 sites that I am using for research, iTunes, my email program, my security program running in the background, an internet dictionary/thesaurus, and a few other things open.

    I also use Kindle for PC, Nook for PC, Nook Study, and a few other programs to read additional books on my laptop at the same time that I am reading something on my Nook. Basically cross referencing. Plus this way I know that I can buy the cheapest textbook available to me and use the program that best suits that format.

    I see no reason why those students in the test program wouldn’t be able to use a tablet/pad to do all of those things. Unfortunately they may have more limits because of the current memory capacity available in pads/tablets, but thankfully I don’t have to deal with those problems with my laptop.

    Just my perspective.

  4. I forgot to mention that I like the Nook because I use it to borrow ebooks from the local library and the University library.

  5. Yes I agree. My colleague Emma Coonan at Cambridge University Library brought this point up when speaking to publishers at last year’s London Book Fair. Creative studying is often messy, with books and papers spread about on a desk. Ebook readers need to be able to replicate this.

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