Posts Tagged ‘ebooks’

Seasons Greetings!

Monday, December 23rd, 2013
Christmas lights

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us within the Australian Digital Futures Institute

As the end of 2013 approaches, the ADFI team would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Throughout the course of the year, members of the ADFI team have produced weekly blog posts that address the latest trends in higher education, current research interests, conference attendance and grant successes among other things.

We have put together a selection of our favourite blog posts from 2013 as a portable eBook for viewing on a mobile device. Enjoy!

Image credit: blurred christmas lights by Dominick used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) licence

Do eReaders have a future in the education market?

Friday, September 6th, 2013
The Kobo Aura HD can be customised for educational purposes

The Kobo Aura HD is an example of an advanced eReader that can be customised for educational purposes

Dr Xiang Ren writes:

The latest e-ink quarterly sales report suggests a 46% drop in Q2 2013.  As the consumer eReader market shrinks faster than many expected, industries are keen to explore new markets like digital education, especially harnessing the wave of e-textbooks. However, tablets are ahead of eReaders in terms of functionality, usability, and suitability for educational purposes[i] and are increasingly taking over eReaders in classrooms today. Horizon Report 2012 pointed out that, tablets are “distinct from other mobile devices” including eReaders, which “are ideal tools for sharing content, videos, images, and presentations”.  As such, do eReaders have a future in the education market?

Despite the drawbacks like the absence of true colour display and low refresh rate, eReaders have “a number of characteristics that make it ideal for consuming textual content” such as good contrast and battery longevity[ii].

Comfortable and concentrated long time reading is the most important advantage making eReaders more suitable hardware for reading e-textbooks than tablets. Additionally eReaders’ simple functionality helps the user to avoid distractions from irrelevant applications like games.

The problem is that such advantages have not been fully harnessed for educational uses because eReaders are mostly designed for leisure reading. Moreover, eReaders like Kindle normally belong to complicated commercial systems characterised by low profit margins in hardware while high profitability in digital content. As such, a number of useful functions are restricted in order to ensure consumers engage in and purchase specific content products.

Not surprisingly, as some pilot projects and research[iii] suggests, existing eReaders fail to meet some essential demands of education:

  • Compatibility: very few eReaders are compatible with all formats of eBooks; for example, Kindle does not support epub: the reading experience with PDF in eReaders is terrible, which is, however, a very popular format for academic content. Additionally, digital libraries, also an essential use for educational users, are not well supported by eReaders.
  • Interactivity: compared with leisure learning, educational users are more interactive. Students need to take notes, highlight, annotate, and cite text all the time and use them for other learning activities like essay writing. But eReaders provide very limited interactive functions.
  • Collaboration: eLearning is increasingly social and collaborative. Teachers and students need to share annotations and discuss in virtual communities and collaborate in online tools like Google Doc. Tablets support such collaborative uses much better than eReaders.

As such, eReaders need to further customize software and functionalities for the education market. Technologically it is not very difficult. Even some individual hackers can design eReader devices and add the functions they want. The big challenge exists in business models.

The business of eReaders has evolved into a closed ecosystem. Unlike tablets that employ an open system, allowing third party apps to add rich functions, eReader business depends on restricting functions and uses for profits. If eReaders install a highly open and customizable system, what will be the business models then? Without cross-subsidy from content business, how much eReader hardware should be priced? Or, is it viable to build new cross-subsidy models and digital educational ecosystems based on eReaders and textual content? Also, who will lead the transformation: hardware manufacturers, educational publishers, platforms like Amazon, or universities and schools? These are practical questions the eReader industries need to consider before they go further in education market.

In countries like China, where student near-sightedness rate is high, eLearning market values e-ink devices more than tablets for its eye-friendly features. This difference has not attracted enough attention in Australia, the UK, and the US. In future, when digital devices are heavily used in classroom, particularly, long time reading of e-textbook, the advantages of eReaders will be more obvious. This is a real market opportunity.

The latest Kobo Aura HD has a number of improvements including a stronger CPU, larger screen with higher resolution and refresh rate. Though targeting consumer market mainly, it provides suitable hardware for further customization for education. Sony will release a 13.3 inch e-ink slate (A4 paper phototype) and invite Japanese universities to try the new devices. Instead of eBook readers, Sony defines this product as ‘digital paper” that aims to improve the overall efficiency of classes. This will be an interesting experiment, redesigning eReaders as an enabling e-ink device for digital education.

Back to the question of “do eReaders have a future in education market”, it is still too early to say goodbye to eReaders. But the industries need to redesign the functionalities of eReaders, improving compatibility, interactivity, and social functions for education. It is also important to reinvent business models in order to establish an ecosystem of digital education instead of leisure reading. In short, to compete with tablets in education market, eReaders need an evolution.


[i]Olsen, Arthur N., Kleivset, Birgitte, &Langseth, Henry. (2013). E-Book Readers in Higher Education: Student Reading Preferences and Other Data From Surveys at the University of Agder. SAGE Open, 3(2).doi: 10.1177/2158244013486493

[ii]Daly, L. . (2012). Digital Monograph Technical Landscape: Exemplars and Recommendations (#jiscPUB Project Report). from

[iii]Here listed a few examples: Clark, D.T., Goodwin, S.P., Samuelson, T., & Coker, C. (2008). A qualitative assessment of the Kindle e-book reader: results from initial focus groups. Performance Measurement and Metrics, 9(2), pp118-129.; Behler, A. (2009). E-readers in action: an academic library teams with Sony to assess the technology. American Libraries, 40(10), pp56-59.; Allmang, N.A., &Bruss, S.M. (2010). What customers want from Kindle books.Online, 34(1), pp36-39.

Image credit: Kobo Aura HD by ActuaLitte under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic licence



Readlists – a mix tape for web content

Monday, September 24th, 2012

Readlists has prompted some colourful debate

To celebrate our new website design, we have compiled some of our favourite blog articles over the past year into a downloadable eBook in ePub format. The ePub format is specifically designed for viewing on mobile devices such as smartphones, tablets and eReaders.

We created the eBook through a service called Readlists  and then tidied up the formatting using the open source software Sigil. This method would not be ideal if creating an eBook from scratch but, in this instance, it worked extremely well by allowing us to quickly draw content together from unique blog pages. Our Readlist can be viewed through a browser, sent to a Kindle or iDevice or downloaded as an ePub. Additional integration with social media platforms allows the sharing of content with others.

The best Readlists “mash up” content from across the web in order to create new and coherent publications which is analogous to a mixtape for web content. Here are some examples:

Readlists is not without its critics or controversy and a debate has emerged that is elegantly summarised on the .net website. Publishers and authors object to Readlists on the grounds that it is a potential violation of their copyright, as it allows their online content to be distributed and re-purposed without their permission. A further grievance is that the content is not being viewed in a way the authors would like and that it circumvents their own web pages. This includes web pages with advertisements which may be an important revenue stream for the website.

Proponents of Readlists argue that this problem is not new and is similarly encountered in RSS feed subscription services such as Google Reader, “read it later” tools such as Instapaper, digital curation platforms such as Pinterest, and reading apps such as Flipboard. According to this position, the content is liberated and the owners can no longer dictate where, when or how people consume online information. This is an interesting stance to take in a world where there are constant battles over ownership and control of digital assets.

The Readlist we compiled at ADFI, which is made-up of our favourite blog posts from the last twelve months, was derived from material that we created. That is, the content was created and owned by ADFI and then Readlists was used to redistribute the material as an eBook. When compiling collections of content from around the web, it might be worth using content that is known to be open through Creative Commons licencing, as a safeguard against copyright issues. In the meantime, we will watch how the debate around Readlists plays out.

Neil Martin, Learning Technologist

Image: ChotdaBookshelf Spectrumused under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic Licence

Unlocking the potential of mobile technologies to overcome digital inequalities in prison education

Monday, September 3rd, 2012
Angela with prison staff holding e-readers

Handing over e-readers to QCS colleagues

USQ has recently launched a pilot project to trial the use of internet-independent digital technologies to enhance the learning experiences of students with limited internet access. Fifteen incarcerated students at the Southern Queensland Correctional Centre (SQCC) are participating in the trial which commenced on the 16th of July.

Incarcerated students face additional challenges to those faced by other students studying at a distance. Lack of internet access is problematic for those studying in a sector that is increasingly characterised by online and flexible course offerings. The Australian Digital Futures Institute (ADFI), in partnership with the Open Access College (OAC), ICT Services at USQ, and Queensland Corrective Services (QCS), have collaborated to develop a pilot project that will assist in overcoming some of these barriers.

The ICT team has developed a simulated version of USQ’s StudyDesk that can function on a series of networked computers independently of the internet. The new technology, called SAM (Stand Alone Moodle), will enable students to:

  • engage with course content
  • participate in discussion forums
  • complete activities, such as self-marking quizzes
  • engage with high quality multimedia such as video’s, simulations and recorded lectures.

These activities were not previously possible. SAM is installed on an isolated network of computers in the correctional centre’s education centre.

e-Readers for study

Each student was given an e-Reader that contains all their course readings and can extend learning beyond the computer lab into personal time. The e-Readers chosen for this project have no wireless or 3G connectivity capabilities. The project will be deployed in Semester 2 2012 (July to November) with students enrolled in course TPP7120: Studying to Succeed as part of the Tertiary Preparation Program.

As a result of these innovative technologies, incarcerated students will, for the first time, be able to obtain an equivalent learning experience to their peers outside of the correctional centre. They will also have the opportunity to obtain the critical e-literacy and e-research skills required for success in future employment or graduate study.

At key points during the semester, student feedback will be gathered, and a series of interviews will take place later in the year to evaluate the experience and assist in the development of future iterations of the project.

QCS staff have been supportive and enthusiastic about the launch of the initiative. Representatives from SQCC attended a one-day training session at USQ. This gave staff the opportunity to become familiar with SAM and the e-Readers and a chance to experience some ‘hands-on’ time with the technology.

The project has attracted international attention, especially now that the proof-of-concept has been deployed.  Whilst this trial is for incarcerated students at this stage, the team is excited by the prospects of deploying the project into other environments, such as rural or remote communities with little or no internet access.

Results of the project will be disseminated in the near future.

Dr Angela Murphy

eBooks and extending the reader experience

Monday, December 12th, 2011
Game contoller

The difference between this and a book is starting to blur

Last time, I spoke about the emotional foundations for the reader experience and also the dilemma faced by the book industry in Australia.  Amazon’s announcement of an 8% decrease in profit against this time last year concerned investors, but the story as to why there is a decrease is far more telling of the book giants’ strategy. With the arrival of the Fire in November, Amazon has dedicated USD $1.6 billion to ensuring that their hardware and software is up to the challenge of delivering content.  They have, quite rightly, made the decision to minimise the profit on each Fire and instead focus on the potential profit of content delivery.

If we revisit my previous point about which is more important for the reader – content or container – it seems Amazon is investing in both, but seeing the future of bookstores in content delivery.

e-Publishing offers a range of opportunities which make texts more accessible, and there are a number of definitions for accessible.  There are the obvious ePub-enabled benefits such as the ability to resize text or access an embedded dictionary, but there are certainly others.  The relative weight comparisons of an eBook reader versus the print counterparts have applications across a broad societal spectrum (from students keeping all of their course materials on one device or replacing heavier Large Print books).

To simply take text and reformat it for online delivery may be appropriate for some texts, but really this is a superficial approach that ignores the additional components available to anyone who wants to create an eBook.

Take a look at only three examples of the possibilities:

  • Al Gore’s ‘Our Choice’:  This is a magnificent book and exists at what I consider to be the ‘top end’ of content creation.  Admittedly, very few of us would have the resources to create something quite like this.  However, it gives us examples of location-aware learning, non-linear reading (or reader-initiated discovery) and the clever use of the iPads’ functionality to increase reader engagement (like the wind power exercise).
  • H.P. Lovecraft’s Kadath:  Whilst this is a work of fiction, I want you to consider the gamified elements built into this work.  The interactive map links two types of content together logically and coherently, but the quizzes add an extra element of immersion.  As you take clues from the book, the text becomes fuzzier.  By answering questions, you gain points and this unlocks Chapters and gives back clear text.  In essence, the line between playing a game and reading the book is almost completely blurred.
  • Inkling is a concept which bears watching very closely.  This company is tackling the e-textbook market, but also creating user communities based around the book, not just the course.  In this way, users can interact with each other and create peer learning networks.  The potential for learner empowerment and self-directed learning is perhaps one of the most powerful outcomes of a project like this.

What these books prove is that the medium can be redefined once untethered from the print.  This isn’t to say that print is dead – just that there are possibilities.

Student engagement has been a focus for the Australian HE sector for quite a number of years and has been the focus of a number of ALTC grants.  Many academic staff at our institution talk about engagement with course materials and maximising the content delivery mechanisms of a course.  It’s very easy to simply create a PDF and put it on your Learning Management System and claim an e-format.  Doing so, however, ignores the possibilities offered by formats like ePub.  Taking the concept one step forward is to enable students to generate their own material for assessment.

The adoption of these types of books in a higher education setting levels clear challenges against how we create content, what we include as part of content, how we distribute it, and then what we can learn by how students interact with it.  I’m very interested to see how eBooks are being adopted across the sector internationally, so I’d welcome any case studies (I might even try to get a ‘guest blog’ out of some of you if you want to spread the word).

What do these examples mean for you?

Creative Tools, – PackshotCreator – Game controller, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Licence.

Adrian Stagg, Learning Technologist

eBooks and the Reader Experience – an introduction

Thursday, October 27th, 2011

Is there a future for the paper books and bookstores?

As mentioned in a previous blog entry, I had the pleasure of attending the ‘Paperless Pedagogy’ Workshop run by the AUC.  As a former librarian, I’ve been quite keen to be involved in ADFI’s eBook projects.  What I have noticed in the several years of different projects at both public and academic libraries is that the eBook conversation is capable of morphing into many different beasts.  My aim in a short series of posts will be to look at some of these.

Around the same time as the Workshop, I caught the 1991 movie ‘Toy Soldiers’.  The premise is very simple – an exclusive Boy’s School is taken over by a heavily armed group of drug dealers who try to ransom one of their number from the US Government.  As the siege continues, the boys continue classes out on the green and it is during one of these classes the Headmaster holds up a book.  ‘The men here will go away and cease to matter’ he says. ‘But this will outlast them – this will endure’ (or words to that effect).

I’m certainly not going to espouse the belief that paper books are going to disappear completely – I’d be highly sceptical of it happening within my lifetime – but a twenty-year-old quote is certainly being challenged. 

Australia has had a tumultuous year in terms of the book industry.  Within weeks of each other, Borders, and Angus & Robertson announced closure of all stores.  In total, over 2500 employees and 250 stores were closed across the nation.  Of course, the media gave us soundbites of concerned shoppers who all spoke about the future of the book – but online was a completely different story as bloggers posted about Amazon and BookDepository which shifted the debate to pricing, rather than a love of books.

Whenever I have spoken to people (especially during a previous life in a public library) there is always a strong emotional undertone to the discussion of eBooks.  About eight years ago when our Library trialled an early eBook reader, borrowers spoke about glare, portability, that a ‘real’ book didn’t need recharging or simply that they ‘felt wrong’ (one patron insisted he wouldn’t use eBooks as they didn’t smell right).

At the heart of the issue is what the O’Reilly Media book What is ePub3? eloquently describes as the “ephemeral ‘reading experience’”.   How people interact with books, and what they expect from a reading experience is individual.  Many of us can recall a favourite childhood book, or a particularly striking piece of literature.  I mostly read fiction outside of work – because my interest lies in how playfully, insightfully or intelligently an author can evoke language.  Neil Gamian’s American Gods, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash are all fine examples where the evocation of language is just as important as the story.

For me, then, is it the content, or the container which is more important?  After using the Kindle for a month now, I’m inclined to weigh in on the side of content.  Whilst I love the feel of a hardcover book, the Kindle delivers a comparable experience.  I’m not going to suddenly replace the five hundred or so books I own with e-copies, but I’ll be considering buying some items in e-format in the future.  The argument shouldn’t be an either/or for print or eBook, but rather a conversation around print and eBook.  This rings true for the inclusion of technology, especially in a broader, societal context – provide the end user with a range of options and let them interact comfortably. 

The ePub format impacts on this concept of the ‘reader experience’ and in many ways offers the end user more opportunities.  Next week, I’ll explore some book apps and titles which are redefining what a book is, and how people can use them – and also discuss how easy it is for user-generated eBooks to see publication.

In my next post, I will discuss  how eBooks can go beyond the traditional reader experience and engage people in new ways.

Adrian Stagg (Learning Technologist (Co-Pilot)

Image: Mal Booth, Bookstore in Denver, used under a Creative Commons Attribution NonCommercial NoDerivs 2.0 Licence.

Paperless Pedagogy Workshop

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

ePUB is an open eBook format

Adrian and I attended the “Paperless Pedagogy” workshop yesterday at Queensland University of Technology, Kelvin Grove campus. The event was organised by the Apple University Consortium and centred around the creation and distribution of eBooks using the ePUB standard.

ePUB is a free and open standard for eBooks. It allows eBooks to be displayed and manipulated on a number of devices including Android and iOS devices (although unfortunately not Kindle – let’s hope that changes in the future). The latest version of ePUB (ePUB3) has real potential as it allows creators to add multimedia and interactive features.

The workshop began with an overview of the electronic book and how it is slowly being leveraged for educational purposes, both in the creation of open content and in the academic publishing market. We then learned how to create ePUB content using a number of different tools. A particular highlight for me was a presentation by Paul Cowan of Waikato University who explained how it is possible to workflow the creation of ePUB content with standardised styling, interactive content and output to RSS feeds.

Here’s five other things that were really helpful to know:

  1. ePubs can be created quite easily using Pages for the Mac.
  2. Calibre is a feature rich piece Open Source software that allows the easy production of eBooks and is well worth experimenting with.
  3. ePUBs can be created on an iPad using Creative Book Builder.
  4. It is quite possible for ePUB content to be downloadable from Learning Management Systems such as Moodle and Blackboard – great for mobile learning.
  5. ePUB can be distributed through RSS. This offers great opportunities in terms of creating subscribable content such as newsletters. RSS also enables ePUB content to be available on iTunes U.

All in all an extremely rewarding event. Adrian and I would like to express our thanks to all the speakers for such an illuminating day.

Neil Martin, Learning Technologist (Co-Pilot)

Image Credit: nestor galina, book, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence.

iPad in Tertiary Education Event

Thursday, October 13th, 2011
Interacting with the iPad

iPad - education game changer?

On Wednesday, USQ welcomed Stephen Atherton and John Webb of the Apple Higher Education Team, who gave an Apple University Consortium Seminar entitled “iPad in Tertiary Education”. The event was organised by the Faculty of Business and Law and was enlightening for all who attended..

Since its launch in 2010, the iPad since  has sold over 25 million units and as a new category of device, it has revolutionised the way many individuals work, create, consume content and play. On release, as noted by Stephen at the start of the seminar, it was seen by some as a potential “game changer for education.” Stephen and John then continued to test this idea further by introducing the audience to some key educational features of the iPad – specifically, the iPad as a mobile device, iTunes U, educational apps, and E-books.

In the first part of his talk, Stephen cited Gartner and the Horizon reports, which predicted that mobile device use within organisations will be ubiquitous by the middle of this decade. He also reflected on how disruptive mobile technologies are forcing universities to react quickly to these changes, in terms of both IT provision (huge numbers of devices connecting to the wireless network) and of course reviewing pedagogy. Stephen pointed the audience towards a number of really useful mobile learning links and it is worth sharing them here:

iTunes U is a distribution channel for public and private educational materials. It is a section of the iTunes store that allows learners to download and subscribe to literally thousands of lectures (both audio and video), PDFs and ebooks. Around 20 Australian universities have iTunes U sites and some of the world’s leading universities are participants, including Stanford, Yale, MIT, Oxford, Cambridge and the Open University. Stephen showed examples of successful implementations of iTunes U and some great content including short pieces which he called “vignettes” – my favourite being a physicist demonstrating the concept of pressure by lying on a bed of nails!

John was then given the floor and demonstrated a number of iPad apps that are gaining traction for educational purposes. These included:

The final part of the seminar was dedicated to e-books and electronic publishing. Steve talked about the epub standard and how it was being utilised for electronic book creation for a number of mobile devices including the iPad. Epub allows the embedding of text, but also interactive content and video. The ability to annotate content, bookmark key pages and view content across multiple devices has the potential to revolutionise the printing industry and a number of publishers are embracing the format as well as offering their own apps with epub content embedded. One such company to watch is Inkling, with interactive textbooks including quizzes and study tools.

I thoroughly enjoyed the seminar. I think Steve and John demonstrated that the iPad does have the potential to be an educational game changer. There is no doubt that tablets will revolutionise the delivery of educational content in the coming years and currently, the iPad leads the way.

 Neil Martin, Learning Technologist (Co-Pilot)

eReaders for education

Thursday, September 15th, 2011
Sony eReader

eReaders have a huge potential to make learning more mobile, and in some cases, more accessible than print.

The potential for eReaders to have a powerful impact on education is a topic that has been under intense review recently both in the media and amongst educators. The questions asked are whether expenditure into eReaders will have a positive impact not only on actual learning but on the student experience of learning.

Textbooks are by default boring and cumbersome; and tangible love for a particular textbook is a rare experience. Love for an eReader, however, is much easier to achieve. Having textbooks easily available and portable may therefore open up opportunities to learn that may previously have been overlooked, a moment snatched in a coffee queue, a brief respite in the sunshine on the grass and even after lockup in a maximum security prison.

A number of studies have indicated that eReaders do have the potential to transform learning, particularly for distance education students. There is also emerging evidence that eReaders can assist students in overcoming reading difficulties as a result of features such as the text-to-speech feature that allows readers to hear words while following along on the screen.

eReaders offer several advantages for improving the learning experience of students particularly and there are numerous features that can assist in overcoming barriers faced by students in non-traditional learning environments. Students are able to interact with eReaders by making notes and highlighting texts and online connectivity is available via Wi-Fi or 3G.

The battery life of most eReaders lasts for weeks rather than days ensuring which means they can be used in areas where electricity is less easily accessible. More eReader manufactures are also enabling the use of EPUB files which are electronic book formats that allow files to be read on and transferred between a variety of eReaders as well as desktop software and online based readers.

A number of manufacturers are also making textbooks available for renting thereby reducing costs for students. The launch of the new Nook Colour is further bridging the gap between tablet devices and traditional e-ink based devices which opens up greater potential to include multimedia content such as video’s and podcasts inside textbooks and enabling interactive quizzes and online assessments at a much lower cost than a tablet computer.

The Australian Digital Futures Institute is exploring possibilities for some exciting new research into using eReaders to enhance the learning experience for vulnerable populations. Let us know in our short poll below whether you are currently using eReaders for learning purposes:

Leave us a comment and let us know how you think eReaders can be used to open up avenues for learning.

Dr Angela Murphy – Mission Achiever

Image credit: cloudsoup, Sony eBook reader, used under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licence.