E-textbooks more popular in Texas schools, but shift will take some getting used to

When Kristin Bratsch couldn't find the textbook she needed, she decided to try an electronic version, a series of PDF files that she downloaded onto her computer.

After completing the course Concepts of Fitness and Wellness, Bratsch, a student at Collin County Community College's McKinney campus, had mixed feelings about the e-textbook.

She said following along in it while watching video lectures was difficult, in contrast to a regular textbook that she could flip through.

But she did like how easy it was to locate exact information by using the "find" feature in Adobe Reader.

"I wouldn't be against using [an e-textbook] again," she said.

Such ambivalence is not uncommon among other students, who, while tech-savvy, aren't completely sold on e-textbooks.

They, along with educators, say e-textbooks will have to overcome some of their weaknesses before they can truly become mainstream.

Still, there's no question that e-readers such as the Kindle and the e-textbooks that are read on them or on computers are growing in popularity and headed to a classroom near you.

Gov. Rick Perry has long supported making the move away from books and toward computer technology in Texas schools, citing the need to engage students and keep their interest while also having the ability to immediately update material.

And House Bill 4294, passed by state legislators in 2009, created a program that provides school districts the choice -- and funding -- to use e-textbooks for students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

Still some problems

Jeff King, director of the Koehler Center for Teaching Excellence at Texas Christian University, said some students tend to view their iPhones and similar tools as purely recreational and don't want to use them for homework.

"It's somewhat counterintuitive," King said. "People think that this is the next bell and whistle and this generation is going to love it."

While the use of e-books in class is still in the crawling stage, many educators are excited about the possibilities.

The Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia conducted a pilot program in its MBA program in which every student was given a Kindle and used it in the classroom.

"I think the biggest pro was the ease with which they could read wherever they were without lugging paper or computer," said Robert Carraway, assistant dean of degree programs.

But he also has a long list of cons and said the Kindle is "simply not appropriate" for students in the classroom.

He said the students were most irritated about being unable to take notes in the margins. Not being able to spread out three or four books or flip quickly through pages to find something was another frustration.

Lin Lin, an associate professor in the department of learning technologies at the University of North Texas, said using e-readers is a "hassle" with many technological oversights and glitches.

"Those abnormal technology issues are kind of being resolved, but they are still there," Lin said. "And if the device is broken, what are students supposed to do?"

Another problem: "A lot of textbooks are not on e-books yet," Lin said.

Still, while the cons seem to outweigh the pros, Lin is convinced that everyone needs to get on board with e-readers.

"It is a necessary skill. It's almost required that schools will have to start to pay attention to them," Lin said.

It's clear that e-books and e-readers are going to have to win students over, but Lin stressed the importance of adaptation.

"For me the bugs are a part of the learning," Lin said.

Hilary Collins, 817-390-7416