The future of eBooks in the classroom

New technology will increase engagement measurability and allow you to reach students where they are

12/18/2013  |  Herb Miller, Ed.M.

The classroom looks very different today than it did 10 years go. Many teachers are using virtual whiteboards and video lectures in place of chalkboards and overhead projectors. Lesson plans can be detailed and fleshed out digitally, with assignments and tests being administered and submitted online. Students have the ability to take notes on iPads and read eBooks on Kindles.

This digital shift is sometimes met with uncertainty, or unwillingness to adopt. But many schools are embracing the challenge of incorporating eBooks into the learning environment to complement traditional methods and take their students to the next level. Education today is at an unprecedented tipping point, and with this change comes incredible benefits and opportunities that far outweigh any initial trepidation or growing pains. Now is the time to get out in front of the digital movement and proactively incorporate new technology into your curriculum so you can avoid having to play catch-up later when it becomes a requirement.

Research shows that students are engaging more than ever with electronic devices like tablets, smartphones, e-readers and computers. For both study and for fun, students read eBooks at a higher rate than ever before, and the numbers continue to climb. The OverDrive library and school network, which serves 27,000 libraries and schools worldwide, has seen an accelerating increase in eBook usage. In just the first three months of 2013, OverDrive-hosted digital library and school catalogs recorded 41.5 million visits. In third quarter of 2013, that number jumped to 51.9 million visits to the catalogs. The year-over-year checkouts grew by 46 percent to 74.6 million through September 2013.

What’s Working Today?

Introducing eBooks to students is a way to meet your students where they already are. They’re on these devices at home, on the bus, in the hallways and on summer break. When they want to teach themselves how to do something on their own they rely on Internet research and communication with their friends. They’re comfortable with the digital environment, and they look to it for instruction and for fun. And recent findings from a three-year study conducted by Marzano Research Laboratory in Southern California elementary schools suggests that teachers professionally trained on using interactive technologies in the classroom has a positive influence on student engagement and achievement.

Incorporating eBooks engages reluctant readers and busy students who are looking for an exciting way to access reading material 24/7, no matter where they are and no matter what device they own. With some programs, students are able to highlight, define and/or take notes within the eBook itself. This fosters a learning environment and creates a more interactive reading experience for the students. Recent studies have even shown that the ability to adjust font size on-screen helps students with dyslexia and visual impairments to read more easily.

The digital shift is certainly something to embrace for schools of any type — public or private, rural or urban, large or small, district or individual. Digital learning is the new paradigm, and that’s something to get excited about. It allows for, and even encourages and enables, interaction among students and in classrooms, while providing a plethora of new tools for engaging readers.

What’s on the Horizon?

Most educators know that there is a movement to meticulously inspect and overhaul the United States education system to create a more efficient and effective learning environment for students. While innovation and technology has already infiltrated some schools, widespread adoption of advanced e-learning tools has yet to take hold. Much of the technology that will be a major component of the classroom of the future has already been developed and is being piloted in schools across the world.

Based on trending data from the past several years, we estimate that eBook usage will continue to grow at an increasing rate, correlating with continued sales of devices with e-reading and internet capabilities. Though reading apps will continue to be popular, the new HTML5-based reading platforms address compatibility issues that come with proprietary apps.

HTML5 is the most current version of web coding language that enhances the user experience and increases compatibility across multiple devices without the need to download software. It is an open standard, rich platform that allows for instant access and responsive design — meaning students can easily read an eBook no matter the size of the screen on which they’re accessing it. With HTML5, links, videos and audio can be embedded within the eBook itself, and offline capabilities let users interact with an eBook even when they don’t have an internet connection.

Unprecedented Measurement and Analysis

EBook platforms built on HTML5 will profoundly impact educators, school librarians and students. The amount of data that will be available in the next few years using HTML5 eBooks has never been seen before in the classroom. The potential is there for an unparalleled level of evaluating students based on their reading habits, and we feel that it is such an important facet of successful digital education that we at OverDrive have developed tools with HTML5 to incorporate all the benefits that it has to offer: enhanced access, compatibility and measurability.

These advancements will affect school librarians and curriculum directors in several ways. They will be able to easily see which titles are in highest demand and receive suggestions for books students want available in their digital library. Electronic catalogs already have the unique ability to effortlessly facilitate discovery through title browsing and suggested books, but collection development becomes even easier as browsing data reports will give insight into a particular school’s student reading preferences.

Students themselves will feel empowered by their ability to clearly communicate with educators about their reading preferences, style and skill level simply through their normal reading patterns. The ease-of-use reduces initial learning curves, and comprehension and engagement levels are expected to increase significantly. Note-taking, highlighting and defining words within the eBooks is available now, as is the ability to supplement studying by accessing links to any other browser-based material. Any online resources or delivery methods that their teachers provide can be referenced — or linked to — on the same device that students use for reading, making for a more efficient homework or study session.

For administrators and teachers, HTML5 eBooks give an opportunity to benchmark a student’s reading progress and accurately judge what reading level is appropriate for him or her. The coding language also allows for excerpts of eBooks to be viewed, shared and measured the same way as a web page. Activity such as page views, time spent on page, and navigation paths can be identified and analyzed, giving educators the ability to see how far a student has read, where they struggle, or how quickly they get through an eBook. Educators will then be able to integrate the collected data into a Learning Management System and have a full view of students’ reading pace and skill level.

Using the technology will allow students to export annotations and notes outside of the eBook system, where teachers can comment and give further instruction. It will highly increase interaction between students and teachers. Teachers will be able to assess and adjust teaching styles, identify students who are reading above or below the classroom level, and accurately align the pace of corresponding lessons to the pace of the students’ reading. HTML5 combines the power of the web with a rich app-like experience, allowing for personalized and effective learning for the individual student.

The Classroom of the Future

Along with personalizing the experience for the student, we’re already seeing an emergence of pay-per-chapter and pay-per-page eBook models, allowing for personalized content for the student as well. In these models, eBook content can be selected and purchased based on only what a person wants to read. This has the potential to catch on in K-12 schools mainly in regards to textbooks, supplemental material, or non-fiction eBooks. Educators would be able to select chapters or content that specifically addresses course topics, customizing the students’ learning experience even more.

Further down the road, proliferation of cloud-based learning and collaboration will create a social sharing atmosphere for students and educators within one central portal. Video conferencing, shared documents, reading materials and assignments hosted on the cloud can be accessed at any time from any device, with the opportunity for real-time collaborative engagement across the city, across the country and around the world. Disruptive technology continuously changes which devices are preferred at any given time, but the content itself will be hosted on the cloud and accessed no matter which gadget is in students’ hands in the future.

The possibilities are virtually endless. EBooks have already opened the door to a more interactive, deeper learning experience, but the future will enable an even stronger understanding of how students engage with reading. In turn, the education system will move into a new era of increased comprehension and engagement among students, and overall better performance.

Herb Miller, Ed.M. is a staff member at Overdrive, Inc. For additional information, visit
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