|Teaching and Learning Forum 2000 [ Proceedings Contents ]
Beyond the Gutenberg Press: Evaluation of texts for the electronic ageCarol Newton-Smith
Faculties of Economics and Commerce, Education & Law
The University of Western Australia
The advent of the electronic age has created additional issues to be considered. What is the value of web sites that support text books with quizzes, chat rooms, bulletin boards and hyperlinks to other sites? What advantages and disadvantages do electronic texts have to offer? What are the copyright issues associated with making electronic texts available to your students?
This paper has been written from the perspective of a librarian and an instructional designer who provide support to academics in the development of instructional material. Textbook selection is one aspect we are often asked to comment on. We will address the issues of whether to use a textbook, what sort of textbook to use, print or electronic, what to consider when choosing a textbook, what alternatives there are to textbooks and student considerations in relation to textbooks.
In this paper, we will address the issues of whether to use a textbook, what sort of textbook to use, what to consider when choosing a textbook, what alternatives there are to textbooks and student considerations in relation to textbooks.
What, however, is the physical form of a textbook? While traditionally we may consider it to be a published book, is this changing? Orlandi (1998) distinguishes between "the text as a conceptual entity, that which exists in the mind of the author, or of the reader" and the material representation or physical entity of the text (p. 181). Pre-Guttenberg, students studied manuscripts as textbooks, today they study printed volumes, tomorrow will they study e-textbooks?
Ingram (1999) states that "in the shift to OnLine learning, assumptions are being made that working with print information is a passive activity with little learner control or engagement and that OnLine learning environments are active with greater learner control and engagement" (p. 8). She argues that the cognitive quality involved in "interaction" with a printed text can be more conducive to learning than that entailed in an "interactive" electronic environment.
Drawing any firm conclusion from the literature about the relative advantages of print and electronic medium is difficult because of the restricted choices made in many of the experimental designs of previous research (Helander, 1984 #2). Table 1 provides an overview of some of the advantages of each medium that may be useful to consider when making a choice between a print and an electronic textbook.
|Advantages of the print medium||Advantages of the electronic medium|
|Faster to read.||Speed may depend on quality of VDU - as these improve the differences possibly be insignificant especially for short passages of text. It may be an advantage that that students read slower.|
|Information read more accurately.||Information can be chunked into digestible sections.|
|Locate information more quickly when inference or less precise terminology is being used.||Locate information quickly when using precise terminology.|
|Information is static.||Information can be dynamic.|
|Easier to flip or skim through and to make side-by-side comparisons. Easier to navigate.||Possible to make links and cross-references. Can head off on individual tangents.|
Most "electronic" texts accessed by the authors were digitalised versions of the print text with little use being made of the particular capabilities afforded by the web. Some interesting examples, however, were found. The Perseus Project [http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/] is an example of a project that is exploring new ways of presenting complex resources for electronic publication. It contains a variety of electronic resources including texts that can be accessed in English or the original language and easily swapped between the two as well as a comprehensive search capability. The Interactive International Trade program [http://www.econs.ecel.uwa.edu.au/econs/units/203/203.htm] is a "text" in which the author has capitalised on the animation capability of the online environment to direct the learner's attention to the important parts of economic models (graphs) and to illustrate the processes that needs to be understood.
Web sites can provide updated and current resources and material thus overcoming the limitations of printed textbooks in this respect. The provision of PowerPoint presentations, test banks and other instructional resources for teachers would encourage teachers to use the textbook to determine unit objectives. The role of the teacher as an agent for transforming knowledge, and for helping their students interpret and construct their own knowledge is replaced by such material with the role of a "passive substation that relays performed messages to them" (Biggs, 1999, p. 99).
If one of the objectives of using a textbook is to give clear boundaries to a subject area then a web site has clear disadvantages as it is very easy for students to get lost in hyperspace.
In the case of first year students and others who are novices to the area, you will need to remember that they are not familiar with the key terms and concepts in the discipline and this will need to be allowed for in judging the difficulty of the text.
The time spent in reading can roughly be determined by multiplying the number of pages by the number of words per page and dividing this by the reading speed of the student. For example, a text may have 35 pages in one chapter and 500 words per page. At an average speed of 250 words per minute, it will take a student 70 minutes to read that chapter (just reading the words).
Remember though that the more difficult the text is, the longer it will take to comprehend. Reading speed will slow down when the material is difficult to process. Studying instructions or diagrams will take extra time depending on their complexity. Thinking about the concepts, making notes and discussing ideas from the text with peers will also take time. If the material is new to the student, they will have to allow extra time for looking up the meaning of key terms they don't understand and trying to master the new concepts before they can think about them.
You will also want students to research, plan and write assignments and to do other instructional activities outside the contact time.
Academia appears to have somewhat changed culture on writing textbooks. In 1991, Blum suggested that it may be academic suicide for an academic without tenure to publish a textbook, yet in the year 2000 many Australian universities are actively encouraging lecturers to make material available electronically in order to facilitate flexible delivery of material. These web sites are often a substitute for textbooks or one of the alternatives, a list of readings which are often bound together with the lecturer's own notes as a reader which can be given or sold to students as an alternative to one textbook. Apart from the technical considerations of developing a collection of readings available in electronic form the copyright issues make this area quite complex. The Australian Copyright Council have a web site [http://www.copyright.org.au] which provides a useful source of information on copyright. In particular their publication on "Creating web sites & publishing on the Internet" provides useful information on how to protect your own material with a copyright statement. A clear example of a copyright notice is available on the QANTM Copyright Page [http://www.qantm.com.au/copyright/index.html]. QANTM provides these web pages as a service to the multimedia and online industry and multimedia users. They aim to provide practical information to help Australian developers, producers, content creators and others understand copyright issues.
Issues related to provision of electronic material created by others are more complex than the provision of print material, because educational institutions have special provisions to photocopy under the CAL license. The CAL license does not cover electronic versions of publications and special care needs to be taken with, for example, the provision of links to material published by other authors on other sites. Queensland University of Technology has written a useful copyright guide for the Australian university context [http://www.tals.dis.qut.edu.au/development/copyright/21.htm]. The page is written for their lecturers who are considering creating web sites and goes into detail about the general rules to observe. The resources of the Internet are protected by copyright and it is ethical and wise to be careful what you copy to your site. It is usually more appropriate to provide students with a link to a useful site than to copy the material down. You must also ensure that the links indicate clearly that the reader is going to another site and that it cannot be misconstrued that the information is part of your site or copyright will be infringed.
This copyright situation will change when the Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill has been passed. For those interested in the likely changes, the Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has handed down a report on the Bill [http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/laca/digitalagenda/contents.htm].
Society and universities are still in the early days of electronic textbook development and the majority of electronic texts found by the authors were print textbooks digitalised for online delivery. In most cases, little advantage has been taken of the capabilities of the electronic medium itself.
"The "Gutenberg galaxy" still exists and "typographical" man [and woman!] is still reading his [and her] way around it" (Darnton, 1999). While we need to consider the nature of the external presentation of information to our students, our primary concern still needs to rest with the quality of the mental processes that they engage in as they work with that information regardless of its form of presentation.
A list of relevant websites has been included in Appendix 3.
Bergh, A., van Wyk, N., Lemmer, E., van der Linde, N., and van Niekerk, P. (1996). Distance learners and their experience of text. South African Journal of Higher Education, 10(2), 169-174.
Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for quality learning at university. Buckingham, UK: SRHE and Open University Press.
Blum, D. E. (1991). Authors, publishers seek to raise quality and status of the college textbook. Chronicle of Higher Education, (31 July), A11-A12.
Bond, P. R. J. (1992). Evaluation and selection of textbooks: A subject specific perspective. Unpublished masters thesis, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia.
Brigham, D. E. (1992). Factors affecting the development of distance education courses. Distance Education, 13(2), 169-192.
Britton, B. K., Van Dusen, L., Gulgoez, S., & Glynn, S. M. (1989). Instructional texts rewritten by five expert teams: Revisions and retention improvements. Journal of Educational Psychology, 81(2), 226-239.
Cavanagh, A. K. (1986). Textbooks used in materials science and materials engineering courses in Victorian tertiary institutions, 1970-1984. Unpublished masters thesis, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia.
Cran, G. R. (Ed.). (1997, September). The Perseus Project. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/ [Accessed 30 Jan 2000].
Darnton, R. (1999, March 18). The new age of the book. The New York Review of Books. http://www.nybooks.com/nyrev/ (search under "Darnton" in the Archives). [Accessed 30 Jan 2000].
Delbridge, A., Bernard, J. R. L., Blair, D., Peters, P., & Butler, S. (Eds). (1991). The Macquarie Dictionary. NSW, Australia: The Macquarie Library Ltd.
Dillon, A. (1994). Designing usable electronic text. London: Taylor & Francis.
Dorsing, D. (1997). Textbook selection and use. APEO Faculty Manual (Ch 6). Asia Pacific Education Office, Laguna Hills, CA. http://www.apeo.org/schools/faculty/chp6.htm [Accessed 30 Jan 2000].
Egan, D., Remde, J., Landauer, T., Lochbaum, C., & Gomez, L. (1989). Behavioural evaluation and anlysis of a hypertext browser. Paper presented at the Proceedings of CHI'89, New York.
Flesch, R. (1950). Measuring the Level of Abstraction. Journal of Applied Psychology, 34, 384-390.
Ingram, D. M. (1999, June 4). Relocating learning online. Unpublished paper submitted as a part of course requirements for 12394 Ed761 Technology and Instructional Design, Curtin University of Technology at Perth, Western Australia.
Helander, M. G., Biollingsley, P. A., & Schurick, J. M. (1984). An evaluation of human factors research on visual display terminals in the workplace. In F. Muckler (Ed.), Human Factos Review (pp. 55-129). Santa Monica CA: Human Factos Society.
Levanthal, L., Teasley, B., Instone, K., Rohlman, D., & Farhat, J. (1993). Sleuthing in HyperHolmes: An evaluation of using hypertext versus a book to answer questions. Behaviour and Information Technology, 12(3), 149-64.
McNight, C., Dillon, A., & Richardson, J. (1990). A comparison of linear and hypertext formats in information retrieval. In R. McAleese & C. Green (Eds.), Hypertext: State of the art (pp. 10-19). Oxford: Intellect.
Miriam-Webster, Incorporated (1999). WWWebster-Online Dictionary-Thesaurus. http://www.m-w.com/
Muter, P., & Maurutto, P. (1991). Reading and skimming from computer screens and books: The paperless office revisited? Behaviour and Information Technology, 10(4), 501-8.
The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language (1996, 1992). Houghton Mifflin Company.
Newton, D. P. (1992). The level of abstraction of textual materials: A new and an old measure compared. Journal of Research in Reading, 15(2), 117-119.
Orlandi, T. (1998). From the book to the electronic edition of literary texts. In I. Butterworth (Ed.), The impact of electronic publishing on the academic community. London: Portland Press Ltd.
Shutes, R., & Petersen, S. (1994). Seven reasons why textbooks cannot make a curriculum. NASSP Bulletin, 78(565), 11-20.
Siegel, M. A., & Sousa, G. A. (1994). Inventing the virtual textbook: Changing the nature of schooling. Educational Technology, 34(7), 49-54.
Smith, A., & Savory, M. (1989). Effects and after-effects of working at a VDU: investigation of the influence of personal variables. In E. D. Megaw (Ed.), Contemporary Ergonomics. London: Taylor and Francis.
Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1996, 1998). MICRA, Inc.
The Perseus Project. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/ [Accessed 30 Jan 2000].
The Interactive International Trade program. http://www.econs.ecel.uwa.edu.au/econs/units/203/203.htm
eMedicine.com (medical textbooks for health professionals) http://www.emedicine.com/
Medical Microbiology (4th edition) entirely online http://22.214.171.124/microbook/
Biophysics Online Textbook http://biosci.umn.edu/biophys/OLTB/Textbook.html
The QANTM Copyright Page http://www.qantm.com.au/copyright/index.html
The Copyright Amendment (Digital Agenda) Bill - a report. http://www.aph.gov.au/house/committee/laca/digitalagenda/contents.htm
A useful copyright guide for the Australian university context written by Queensland University of Technology http://www.tals.dis.qut.edu.au/development/copyright/21.htm
MS, Barnes and Noble team on e-books (aims to make every book available electronically) http://www.zdnet.com/zdnn/stories/news/0,4586,2417896,00.html
Carol Newton-Smith [firstname.lastname@example.org] is the Business Librarian at the University of Western Australia. She is responsible for library services to the Faculty of Economics and Commerce. Her research interests are in the use of technology to enhance academic research and teaching.
Deborah Ingram [email@example.com] is currently Instructional Designer for the Faculties of Economics and Commerce, Education and Law at the University of Western Australia. Her research interests lie in the area of instructional design and technology, particularly in the area of teaching and learning in an online environment.
Please cite as: Newton-Smith, C. and Ingram, D. (2000). Beyond the Gutenberg Press: Evaluation of texts for the electronic age. In A. Herrmann and M.M. Kulski (Eds), Flexible Futures in Tertiary Teaching. Proceedings of the 9th Annual Teaching Learning Forum, 2-4 February 2000. Perth: Curtin University of Technology. http://lsn.curtin.edu.au/tlf/tlf2000/newton-smith.html