A Snapshot of Student Opinions on High Tech Textbooks

Last updated: 3/18/2014

Several new technologies that recently entered the marketplace – e-readers, netbooks, iPhones - promise new methods of distributing and consuming textbooks, which could mean significant savings for students.  With the beginnings of innovation emerging, it is important to understand students’ perspectives. What do students want?  How can evolving technologies best meet their needs?  To answer these questions, the Student PIRGs conducted a study of student opinion on these new technologies, consisting of a 1,133 student survey plus follow-up focus groups.  While the results cannot be generalized to the larger student population, the study is designed to provide a useful snapshot of today’s students.

Survey Findings

  • Kindle, e-readers attractive, except for concerns about cost: 40% of the students who were at least “somewhat familiar” with e-readers said that they were “likely” or “very likely” to switch from print textbooks to e-readers, based on what they knew.  In follow-up focus groups, students generally became less interested in switching to e-readers upon learning the cost of the devices.
  • iPod, iPhone textbooks would be convenient: More than a third (38%) of the students said that they would use a textbook on their iPod, iPhone, or similar device “frequently” or “all the time,” if the option was available. 77% of the students said that they would use it at least “a few times.”
  • Print is still preferred over digital, but students like both:  70% said they prefer to read textbooks in print rather than on a computer if cost is not a factor. 30% of the students said that they would pay extra to have both print and digital versions of their textbooks.

Given students’ widely different budgets and learning styles, we should seek a system where students can choose between "high tech" options and traditional print formats.  Furthermore, new technologies are only a solution insofar as students can afford to use them.  Textbook publishers must look for models that do not rely on excessive prices or heavy restrictions on digital copies, such as open textbooks.

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