Q&A: Should I Use Online Textbooks?

Answer: I wouldn't. To expand that answer a little, right now, most students don't do as well with e-books as they do with physical textbooks.

There are advantages to electronic textbooks, and online students use many of them. The most obvious is that at several online schools, students can access their textbooks from anywhere, without having to carry them. Just log on, and bam, there are your books. That's a great advantage for students who travel and for military students, who often have a weight limit on what they can carry. The search functions that many e-texts come with are also really useful. Remember a great phrase, but not where it is? Search for it, and you've got it.

However, despite those advantages, right now students learn more with physical textbooks. Reading for school carries special demands. You need to be able to highlight, draw little arrows connecting one idea to another and so on. E-book publishers are working on this, but right now, none of the options work as well. Simply put, e-books are fine for leisure reading, where pleasure is your goal, but when you want to retain information and build knowledge by connecting ideas, thus far hard copies are still best.

Now, if you know that, you can plan workarounds. You can try to pick up a cheap used copy to write in, and keep the e-text for searches and travel. You can print out key pages, and/or take lots of notes on paper. No matter what you do, you need to find ways to be an active learner, which is what physical texts promote.

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.