Some considerations when moving to e-textbooks

A discussion of some of the advantages and disadvantages of electronic textbooks in the classroom that may need to be managed.

As we have reported and discussed in previous posts, several Caribbean countries have implemented  tablets in schools programmes, in which the aim is to put a tablet computer in the hand of every student. This initiative is a progression of the computer in schools programme, which initially sought to  establish computers labs in schools, and then to increase the number computers to students.

In implementing the tablets in schools programmes, a frequently made observation in many quarters, including us at ICT Pulse, is although there is considerable hype around those initiatives, frequently little  thought is given to the content on those devices to make them useful in schools and to students. Last week, a news article published in Antigua and Barbuda discussed its government’s plan to introduce an electronic textbook system. Some of the reasons offered by the government for embarking on such an project is to “eliminate the costs associated with purchasing the hard copies, distribution and storage” (Source: The Daily Observer).

Without a doubt, e-textbooks offer those distinct benefits over traditional printed books. Below are some additional benefits, along with some disadvantages, that merit consideration in order to more fully appreciate of the implications of moving to e-textbooks.

Requires an electronic device to access the content

Although it may seem obvious, it ought to be emphasised: in order to read e-textbooks, students must have own or have access to an electronic device, such as a computer, smartphone or tablet, through which to do so. It therefore means that in addition to the cost of e-textbooks, that to purchase and maintain reading devices must also be factored in by the parents and/or the schools/government.

Highly portable

Thanks to e-textbooks, gone will be the days when students lugged around 5–10 pounds (2–5 kilogrammes) of books on their backs. In being virtual content, e-textbooks are highly portable through a smartphone or tablet, with most tablets weighing well under 2 pounds (1 kilogramme), and a smartphone weighing considerably less.

Can work out more costly than printed texts

One of the main justifications for moving from to e-textbooks, and even e-books for that matter, is that they are cheaper than traditional printed books. However, that is not necessarily the case. With e-textbooks, the arrangement with publishers may require licence fees to be paid on a regular basis in order to continue to access the material. Unlike printed books, where an individual pays a one-time price and can have in his/he possession a physical copy of a book, which he/she can decide to use it for undefined period, a publisher could decide to bar access to a textbook, for example, if the content is considered outdated, or if licence payments are outstanding.

Can support web or multimedia tie-ins

In addition to text, an e-textbook can also include and/or have embedded in it, among other things, video clips, and links to additional content on the Internet, for example, image galleries, tests and remedial material. On the other hand, with printed textbooks, it is not a easy or straightforward to access supplementary material.The multimedia and online support available through the e-textbook can be easily accessed on the same device and ultimately, can enhance and improve the teaching and learning experience for both teachers and students.

Health concerns associated with tablet use

Finally, it ought to be noted that there are a range of health problems associated with use of handheld computing devices including tablets. Of particular concern is Computer Vision Syndrome, which causes, among other things, eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, and dry eyes, and can occur after just 30 minutes of reading. Further, a relationship has also be established between the use of mobile and portable devices and the incidence of “musculoskeletal disorders associated with repetitive strain on muscles, including carpal tunnel syndrome, neck pain (“text neck”), shoulder pain, and fibromyalgia” (Source:

In summary, the move to e-books and e-textbooks will continue and grow into the future. Printed books and material will no longer be the norm, and may even become a rarity. It is thus important to consider and manager benefits and challenges of e-textbooks, as they ultimately will be a key means through which information and learning will occur in the classroom.

Are excited by the move to e-textbooks. What are you looking forward to? What are your concerns?


Image credit: IntelFreePress (flickr)