Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?

Digital textbooks are an interesting beast. Do you use them? My school subscribes to Kerboodle, Doddle, Dynamic-Learning and others.

Today my daughter asked to see if I might borrow copies of a science textbook teachers roll out during lessons that seems to be much better than the issued course book she has. I found out that is available to her electronically via kerboodle. But this was not sufficient: “but that’s no use to me is it?” she quipped when I suggested she already had access to this material. She wanted the paper version. Why?

This is a couple of pages presented in a web browser. On my 13" screen I cannot read them.
This is a couple of pages presented in a web browser. On my 13″ screen I cannot read them.

She wants to be able to use the book on her desk (where her lovely iMac is also located) without using her computer because she wants to be able to *read* it.

So, I opened it to see what I thought. It’s not great. You get the content as above and you can zoom…

zoomed in so I can read the text clearly
zoomed in so I can read the text clearly, but the zooming tool isn’t great

Or change the layout to make it more  appropriate for certain screens:


Displays one page at a time defined by page width to screen width
Displays one page at a time defined by page width to screen width – that’s a bit better

Then there are the digital tools that come as part of the book.

Interactive questions:

yes or no questions
yes or no questions


mix and match questions
mix and match questions


fill in the blanks questions
fill in the blanks questions

Then there’s a glossary:

alphabetically indexed glossary
alphabetically indexed glossary

And you can check the learning outcomes:

learning outcomes
learning outcomes

And you can add your own notes, or take pictures that save to your computer:

sticky notes
sticky notes
Screen Shot 2013-02-22 at 16.50.06

I think I’ve covered all the major features bar testing it out on a tablet. But are these things really what learners want? Would you want to use them? Is it a matter of learning to use these new resources? Or do they exist just because they can and purse holders buy them because they are cheaper than the hardcopy versions?

To double-check I showed my daughter all these features to see if they make any difference to her opinion of these digital textbooks. It will save me the best part of £60.00 that these three science books cost on amazon. Sadly they did not change her mind – “it’s not a book!”. I missed out a search tool from the features which is quite good, but the keyword *acid* had 78 pages in results and each page takes a flash minute to load. Tried the iPad as well: fail.

no joy on the iPad mini
no joy on the iPad mini

So I search the app store for an app… and found revision apps from same company but no reader app for their digital textbooks.

appless - but making more money through apps for home users priced £0.69 each
appless – but making more money through apps for home users priced £0.69 each

Please fill in this anonymous two question survey – you will be able to see the responses after submitting.

Do you know of a digital textbook that is better than the hardcopy equivalent?

Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?

7 thoughts on “Digital Textbooks – Yes or No?

    1. Thank you for the detailed reply via your blog Ian.

      I agree. Functionality is not quite there yet but also my daughter is not alone in wanting paper versions. We all have to learn new ways of working as technology is fed into our lives by choice and by others pushing our workflow around, just like we do in schools. However, seven of my tutor group read on their kindles. For them, the paper textbook is inconvenient.

  1. Chris Shepherd says:

    I get on fine with digital textbooks on my iPad. It gives me access to far more books than I could carry wherever I am as well as the additional features that the technology offers but I can understand that it is not for everyone.
    It’s not so easy to just flip through and I have found the bookmarks to be oddly unsatisfactory – not quite sure why.
    So, on balance, for textbooks I’m pro but I won’t be getting rid of my shelves of paper books quite yet.

    1. I think it is important that companies make these books usable on all devices – including Kindles and Nooks. But also that they look into making them more appealing to their users rather than they currently do.

      What type of textbooks do you use on your iPad Chris?

  2. Danny Park says:

    From the ones I have installed for different departments around the school they are severely lacking. A lot of it stems from the publishing companies being scared of piracy and not moving with the times, Lots of them are the old ones they were selling ten years ago created in macromedia director with a slightly new-er frontend. The zoom for instance is mainly down to that fact that they have created two lots of the same page in flash so that you can’t copy the text straight out. This has infuriated our English department who want to be able to pull the text out easily and annotate it in word or smart notebook.

    When there are now standard ebook formats out there why are these not supplied ?

    1. That’s a great point you make Danny. You would have thought that schools can be trusted to use content in accordance with copyright and that making these books the best they can be on all devices would lead to improved sales for the author organisation. Scared is an interesting choice of word. I wonder what the meetings in these publishing companies look like. Protect our content at all costs?

  3. […] The variation of size, typefaces and colours between the heading, subheadings and body copy allows the eye to easily move around the page. Can be found at: The different colours used creates contrast making the type legible. Can be found at: This textbook page layout utilizes space to define visual hierarchy in type. Notice the less important information placed in a chart on the sidebar. This can be found at: […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *