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Digital Textbooks: Websites or Books?

Posted by Abigail Bryant on October 03, 2016

As we delve deeper into a digital age where many things are moving online including education, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us as educators to file our resources under the simple categories we once could. As we find ourselves in a society of ever-evolving technology, we are not only faced with the digital divide between books and websites, but with the notion that the two have started to overlap. Digital Textbooks are one way we have seen printed text adapt to incorporate technology. We have seen this adaption across businesses, multiple industries and now, of course, in education. As the benefits of using books and websites interlink and the digital divide seems less clear-cut, our definitions require an evolution that has led many to ask the question: Does the emergence of Digital Textbooks blur the line between books and websites? In particular, are Digital Textbooks websites or books?

Digital Textbooks- What do they do for you?

As noted by Miriam J. Metzger and Andrew J. Flanagin in Digital Media, Youth and Credibility,”The Internet and the explosion of digital media content have made more information available from more sources to more people than at any other time in human history”. Digital Textbooks make the most of the digital format to engage different learning styles. Teachers are able to use an array of resources from interactive content to multimedia.

The digital format also allows publishers to respond to any feedback they receive on the content, correct errors and continuously iterate to improve the learning experience. The use of Digital Textbooks means that content is kept up to date and accurate. With so many benefits, why is there a perceived hierarchy in academic sources, with the use of printed media more highly regarded compared to its digital equivalent? Does a printed newspaper article have any more credibility when compared to its online counterpart? The simple answer is no. The content has not changed – only the medium through which it is being delivered. This change in medium is not a small change, but one that can help students increase their retention rate from 10% up to 50%, thanks to consuming content through interactive media instead of static text. So why is it that when it comes to education, a printed book is seen as more credible than a website?

Change is not always easy

It is understandable that some educators feel more comfortable with printed textbooks and find them more trustworthy. Familiarity plays a role here; many teachers are just more used to using printed textbooks both as classroom aids and as academic sources. In many cases, when you go online there is a lot of non-syllabus specific content which decreases the reliability and value of what you find. This fuels the lack of trust some teachers have in online resources. When students come to producing academic writing ( In the case of the IB, when they come to the Extended Essay or Internal Assessment), one of the big questions often asked is do we reference Digital Textbooks as books or as a website?

Website or book: That is the question

The question of credibility becomes more complex when we look at the parameters of what constitutes a book and website. This is especially the case when we are talking about Digital Textbooks. The lines between the two are definitely blurred and therefore when we are looking at the framework of referencing of Digital Textbooks it becomes difficult to fit them neatly into one category. When referencing a book, students are required to include title, author, publisher, date of publishing, and the page number. However, when you come to referencing a website all that is required is the reference title (if any), website name, the address, and the date of access. When we are looking at referencing Digital Textbooks, which referencing format is optimal?

Despite the clear blur between books and websites, what is clear is that referencing Digital Textbooks as printed textbooks just wouldn’t work. Firstly, when referencing a website, you state the date accessed because content changes and is updated over time. Digital Textbooks also share this quality; in fact it’s one their major advantages. Secondly, many Digital Textbooks do not have named authors as putting them together is, more often than not, a collaborative process. Therefore, if you referenced a digital textbook in a bibliography, you couldn’t guarantee that it would adhere to the strict referencing guidelines required of printed books. Ultimately the mould doesn’t fit and the only resolution is to reference Digital Textbooks as websites. This method best reflects the format of the content and that fact that it changes over time.

Have we found the best of both worlds?

Whilst referencing is only one of issues when deciding whether Digital Textbooks are websites and books, it does show how difficult it will be for us to categorise books and websites separately in the future. As time goes on and education aligns itself more closely with technology, what is clear is that the benefits of using Digital Textbooks will only increase. Website or Book? Labels at this point are not important, but what will be is how we adapt and evolve in order to incorporate Digital Textbooks into our classrooms. One thing for sure is that Digital Textbooks offer solutions to the challenges faced by the use of both books and websites. They provide reliable, subject-specific content that can be edited, improved and adapted. They really do harness the best of both worlds.

Author: Abigail Bryant

Abi is Head of Support at Kognity, where she works closely with teachers and students getting them set up and ensuring their experience with Kognity is a great one. Previously she worked as an English teacher working with International Schools in South East Asia.

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