There has been significant talk recently about the place of, and the use of, the textbook in teaching both in primary and secondary schools, with Department for Education-approved texts being available for phonics and mastery mathematics in primary and a growing call, from some quarters, for textbooks to make a comeback in secondary. However, with the advent of the smartphone and the tablet as vehicles, there has been an evolution of the print book. Alongside textbooks, schools could consider the advantages of using electronic books.

Whilst many academic and schoolbooks have an electronic version, many of these are still ‘digital print’, offering little interaction or functionality beyond access and searchability, leaving students frustrated (Brahme and Gabriel , 2012). if these ‘e’ books offer little pedagogic difference from the paper books they are replacing, offering only an efficiency gain (easier to transport for example) and they need other technology to use them, they offer little advantage. Electronic books can, however, be developed to add value and pedagogical purpose.

Let’s start with some definitions, based on four stages of book evolution

The print book

This is the traditional paper tome containing words and occasional diagrams or images. A self-contained technology, it is heavy, robust, and needs no power. It is reasonably portable in the singular, though difficult in quantity. It is readable in most lights and most locations – though difficult in the dark. It is difficult and expensive to correct or update.

The digital print book

This is the same as the above but digitised – it still tends to contain only words and the occasional image. It needs a technological platform to view and is dependent on this technology for its readability and portability, which can vary immensely. It is cheap to produce and reproduce, though often not cheap to purchase, and easy to amend and correct. It varies from the above in form rather than in substance.

The multi-media book

This has the same need for a technology platform and offers many of the portability and editability advantages of the digital print book, but has a wider variety of media incorporated into its substance. It will use video, audio, moving graphics and even possibly virtual and augmented reality tools to offer a richer media experience to the user. It still tends to be a delivery tool.

The true electronic book

This offers a more interactive experience between the user and the consumer of the book. The reader can become the co-creator – a constructivist approach to learning (Vygotsky , 1978), where the electronic book becomes part of the learning process.

The affordances of the electronic book

There are four key affordances that we can think of as we develop an electronic book (see Figure 1).

Example: In mathematics, the process of the decomposition method of subtraction can be shown as a small animated movie, where the voice of the teacher alongside the actions that would be demonstrated can be included in the book. Good teacher explanation is identified as a key aspect of learning (Rosenshine , 2012), but in a classroom, deciding on the need to and the efficacy of repeating an explanation when some of the class have understood and want to progress and some need support and scaffolding is a difficult decision. Repeating the instruction to the whole class can be distracting. The video in the electronic book gives more choice on pedagogical direction for both the teacher and the pupils. Pupils have the opportunity to replay the explanation as often as needed, developing both knowledge and understanding (Willingham , 2003). The teacher has the opportunity to develop more situated or structured examples to support the needs of particular pupils.

The artefacts that can be included: Alongside print and image, the electronic book can include video, audio, moving graphic, slideshows, animations and so on. This gives the creator of the book much more scope for transmitting information, exploring ideas, demonstrating and offering learning in a variety of ways.

The way in which the artefacts can be organised (layout): The layout of print books that have been digitised is determined by a number of factors, including print layout, text option, colour, size, cost, etc. None of these apply to the electronic book — text can be enlarged, changed, designed and moved, and all of these can be updated and corrected very quickly and simply. The ability to resize text and text-to-speech readers offers the opportunity to improve access for students with specific needs. The simplicity of change also allows for adaptation by users. As well as teachers (and other adults), there are opportunities for the pupils to engage in the wider editorial and authoring process.

Interactivity: A number of companies are developing interactive widgets for electronic books (such as Bookry, Bookwidgets and Learningapps); these include timelines, quizzes, overlays, drag and drop, annotate, feedback and many more. These allow for a range of pedagogical approaches to be included within the textbook, including dual coding, re-sequencing and low-stakes testing, and also enables instant feedback to students on the completion of tasks.

Capturing data: The electronic book can capture data which can be used by the teacher to adapt and develop learning activities.

Case study: For the last three years, Greg Hughes, Assistant Head at the de Ferrers Academy in Burton-upon-Trent, along with colleagues, has been developing the school’s own digital, interactive books, some as part of innovative projects with ITE (initial teacher education) students at The University of Nottingham (shortlisted for a TES digital innovation award in 2017).

Teachers have created these books, leveraging the benefits of animations, videos and interactive widgets to provide self-learning experiences for students to address areas of misconceptions and difficulties, a key aspect of improving learning in science (EEF, 2018). These teachers drew on research in instructional design to best sequence the multimedia and interactive content, providing a range of learning activities.

The construction of these books has had benefits for both the teachers who have made them and the students who are using them. The teachers have benefited from working collaboratively to develop the curriculum resource, considering how to use the multimedia and interactive elements to best aid teaching. They are able to use an iterative design process, testing the book and then quickly and easily developing this with feedback from the pupils.

The virtual nature of the books makes them cheap and easy to replicate and distribute, so the Academy is able to use these resources across its family of schools, with each school being able to adapt them to their own needs.

The students have benefited from materials crafted by those who know their learning needs best – their own teachers – who have been able to focus and target the learning materials in the areas in which they know their students struggle most, creating examples, models and information crafted for their learning needs.

Pedagogical advantage

An important question for any technology (including print books) must be to ask, ‘how does this support learning?’

Teachers have created these books, leveraging the benefits of animations, videos and interactive widgets to provide self-learning experiences for students to address areas of misconceptions and difficulties, a key aspect of improving learning in science (EEF, 2018). These teachers drew on research in instructional design to best sequence the multimedia and interactive content, providing a range of learning activities.

The construction of these books has had benefits for both the teachers who have made them and the students who are using them. The teachers have benefited from working collaboratively to develop the curriculum resource, considering how to use the multimedia and teaching. They are able to use an iterative design process, testing the book and then quickly and easily developing this with feedback from the pupils.

The virtual nature of the books makes them cheap and easy to replicate and distribute, so the Academy is able to use these resources across its family of schools, with each school being able to adapt them to their own needs. The students have benefited from materials crafted by those who know their learning needs best – their own teachers – who have been able to focus and target the learning materials in the areas in which they know their students struggle most, creating examples, models and information crafted for their learning needs.

The affordance of the eBook allows for a more interactive practice, with information presented in a more dynamic and meaningful way. It gives access when the student needs it to key knowledge via a range of media, including teacher explanation and worked examples (Rosenshine, 2012), and the use of a range of interactive elements allows for instant feedback on learning activities (Wiliam , 2011). The core of the book will be authored by the subject expert but then annotated by the learner, who will tailor this into a personal, authentic and relevant resource for their own learning (Narayan , 2011).

At the University of Hull we are developing interactive eBooks for use within the teacher education faculty and to encourage teacher trainees to consider the place of this resource in their own teaching as they emerge into the teaching landscape, as well as exploring with tutors the impact of the use of eBooks on their own pedagogy and thinking.

References

Brahme M and Gabriel L (2012) Are students keeping up with the e-book evolution? Are e-books keeping up with students’ evolving needs?: Distance students and e-book usage, a survey. Journal of Library & Information Services in Distance Learning (6): 3–4.
EEF (2018) Improving secondary science. Available at: https://educationendowmentfoundation.org.uk/tools/guidance-reports/improving-secondary-science/ (accessed 2018).
Narayan V (2011) Learner-Generated Content as a Pedagogical Change Agent. Ascilite 2011 conference proceedings pp. 891–90. Australia: Hobart.
Rosenshine B (2012) Principles of instruction: Research-based strategies that all teachers should know. American Educator 36(1): 12–19.
Vygotsky L (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Wiliam D (2011) Embedded Formative Assessment. Bloomington: Solution Tree Press.
Willingham D (2003) Students remember… What they think about. Available at: http://www.aft.org/periodical/american-educator/summer-2003/ask-cognitive-scientist (accessed 2015).