01 Why bother with ebooks?

Mobile everything has been much hyped over the past few years with figures of device ownership and network activity usage both up, up and away. Within the mobile space, one topic t intrigues me more than others, which is the idea of the digital book, made possible by ebook readers, tablets, computers and software. The NMC Horizon report, an annual look at what’s hot in education and technology has been waving the flag for ebooks since 2010  saying that by 2012 ebooks should be beginning to hit their stride and gaining widespread use. I think they might just be right.

The current digital book is largely relegated to hastily cobbled together editions of existing print books wrapped in an often poorly built PDF file. I can live with this, knowing that there must be light at the end of the tunnel (hopefully not a train) as duplicating print books has been tried, and now we have begun to look at that is next. Whilst I do believe that benefits such as having access to a library at my fingertips, fast searching and 24/7 distribution are great features, those alone are only scratching at the surface of what a digital book could be.

In Post-Artifact Books and Publishing Craig Mod writes:

  • The way books are written has changed.
  • The canvas for books has changed.
  • The post-published life of a book has changed.

Suddenly these three sentences thrust what digital books are becoming into the light. I feel it is worth considering each in context of education.

The way books are written has changed.

The process used to be be of isolation with author> select reviewers > Publisher > seller. Martin Weller’s 2011 book The Digital Scholar came into being in part from his public blog writing on many of the thoughts and topics that went on to become the book. The comments and statistics could have been one method of seeing what “sticks” to inform the book process. Which was then further honed by his tribe using various social tools.

Over the past year or so I have been following with interest as Gráinne Conole writes Designing for learning in an open world, sharing each chapter of it, using the web to “…act as a space to invite discussion and debate on emergent issues. ”

We are able to use ‘digital’ tools and communications to reach those at whom the book is aimed from day zero. Services like Kickstarter have enabled people to float an idea for a book and get the funding BEFORE day 1.

The canvas for books has changed.

We now have a countless number of ways to read digital books. From dedicated hardware such as the Amazon Kindle, to tablets such as the Apple iPad, Google Nexus 7 and more mainstream computers and mobile phones with book reading capabilities. These devices along with ‘apps’ let us read on a digital book on a new type of canvas from print.

My current favourite reader is the ibis reader which allows me to upload EPUB books and access them on all my devices and sync the page I am reading so i can effortlessly move from one reading device to the next. At the 2012 Digital Book conference, Liz Daly, creator of ibis reader spoke about the possibility of streaming books becoming a possible future (spotify for ebooks), helping us become file format and device agnostic.

I can imagine a near future where education book release will be “digital by default”, saving print for core texts.

The post-published life of a book has changed.

A digital book never has to be complete, like Wikipedia, edits can be made and released with ease. New versions being released as “dot” versions much like how software upgrades are done. Being digital, the book may be discovered by a far greater amount of people, and will be easily distributed via established library catalogues and newer services like Apple iTunes U. Services like Amazon allow you to publicly share your ebook reading lists and highlights,  suddenly these unique digital social features might start to find usefulness for education books. Teacher and learner sharing notes on the same books, this opens the door to potential new pedagogical exploration.

I am now reading as many digital books as I am print books and I continue to marvel at the idea of what is coming next.

2 Replies to “01 Why bother with ebooks?”

  1. Thanks for this Zak.

    I too wished the eBook phenonemom had progressed quicker than it has, but am grateful that the forward momentum is still evident.

    All the best, David

  2. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. In this series I hope to uncover some great uses that can inspire others to give digital books a go, particularly as we have some traction.

    Now back to my very poorly formatted ebook by Baltasar Gracián….

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