Are e-books good study tools?

It seems these days, e-books are everywhere.

You can see ads for them on everything from subway walls to packaged lunch meat. Even the bookstore in the Indiana Memorial Union is promoting them as an alternative to paying the ridiculous prices for actual textbooks.

I’m a big proponent of e-books, and I know the advantages to encouraging them on college campuses: Not printing all that paper helps the environment, carrying around a small e-reader instead of a backpack full of textbooks helps students not get back problems and setting the prices so low makes them much more affordable.

Those are all great reasons for encouraging campus to go digital. Unfortunately, there are also some big reasons not to.

In 2009, Amazon tested the Kindle DX at schools across the country. The results were grim. While students liked being able to carry everything on one small e-reader and they liked using the Kindle for pleasure reading, 75 percent of the test group at University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business wouldn’t recommend it to incoming

At Princeton, another test school, researchers found students didn’t like the Kindle “Because it was difficult to take notes on the Kindle, because PDF documents could not be annotated or highlighted at all and because it was hard to look at more than one document at once.” They also didn’t like being unable to open multiple texts at one time.

All of those are valid points. It is harder to take in material when reading from a screen instead of from a printed page, and it can also be hard to absorb material or to go back and study later without the use of a highlighter.

E-books are definitely cheaper than hardcopy texts. And for college students, the price may outweigh other disadvantages. An Arizona State University professor whose two-semester class requires books that usually total to about $500 said students found that buying e-books instead of their dead tree counterparts saved them about 75 percent.

Since college students often pay as much as $200 for a single textbook, having an option for that much savings might be worth the challenges.

But there is another reason to worry about trusting fate to electronics: How far can you trust the online store?

During the past two years, Amazon has become the reigning monarch of the e-book world. The Kindle is its biggest seller, and the online giant sells more e-books than printed books, though it does not release specific sales figures.

Even though going digital seems like a great idea on the surface, the drawbacks make me wary of purchasing an e-reader and going to town. Future upgrades and different types of e-readers, or even tablets such as the iPad, might solve many of the difficulties students face. And history shows that enough pressure can be brought on the retailers to make them reverse some disastrous choices.

However, the time when e-books benefit more than students’ pocketbooks still seems to be a few years away.


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