Interactive content stimulates learning

Do you still spend hundreds of dollars on textbooks and course readers at the start of a new semester?

According to College Board, in 2011-12 the national average textbook costs at non-profit four-year on-campus universities was $1,213.

With the advent of digital media and mobile technology, the trend of paperback textbooks and printouts is a declining practice. The remarkable evolution from ink to pixels now causes most university students to access digital, rather than print, when reading course materials.

According to the National Association of College Stores, digital textbooks are expected to account for a 500 percent year-on-year increase in market share in reference to the course materials sold in fall 2012.

Cost-effective e-textbooks and materials make the option for students to go digital vital, as opposed to lugging hard-copy textbooks around campus. The student digital services offered by Amazon and other publishers leveraging cloud-based e-book distribution is already making electronic reading a ubiquitous student experience.

Recently, Encyclopaedia Britannica announced that it is ceasing publication of print editions and going digital-only. This is a big step for a company that has been in the printing business since 1768. In a world of infinite and instant knowledge, a $1,395 32-volume hardcover library that’s outdated the moment you crease the spine is destined to have plummeting sales.

Just a few days after the release of the much-anticipated new iPad 2, a Pearson Foundation study revealed that students believe tablets and other mobile devices will transform learning.

According to the study, among college students who own tablets, the iPad is the most popular (63 percent), followed by the Kindle Fire (26 percent) and Samsung Galaxy Tab (15 percent). These numbers certainly point to increasing popularity in digital readership among students.

With the ease and interactive features of e-book readers, mobile devices and tablets, students can experience improved retention and a wider variety of information media such as video or online media.

Not to mention, students tend to learn not only while seeing and reading, but also by doing. A perfect example of this would be when professors create custom apps and online blackboards to conduct skills evaluation, conduct virtual office hours and discussion sessions, or accept and grade assignments online. Classroom participation and annotation with skeleton notes is one of the assets that digital content provides. No doubt, students always find digital content easy to share as compared to the conventional paper notes.

“There are many advantages to go for soft copies of academic materials,” said Pankaj Rajak, a graduate student studying materials science. “One of my favorite feature[s] is that they give me the ability to search within the text, unlike the printed edition.”

Instead of boring static images, the incorporation of video, audio, interactive simulations, animations and even 360-degree visualizations and panoramas is definitely a boon for students and is reinventing the academic curriculum. Such interactive digital content is transforming passive learners into active participants in courses, thereby maximizing student engagement.

USC appears to be well aware of this evolution in e-textbooks and has continually updated its subscriptions to educational databases and purchased additional e-resources. USC Libraries is also planning to roll out an iPad checkout program to encourage student research.

If the trend continues, our backpacks might get lighter — and our wallets might retain their weight.


Rohan Aurora is a graduate student studying biomedical engineering.