Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Student Use of a Free Online Textbook

Academic journal article Academy of Educational Leadership Journal

Student Use of a Free Online Textbook

Article excerpt


Textbook prices are a concern to many groups, from students, to parents, to teachers and school administrators. Students spend an average of $700-1000 per year on textbooks (Allen, 2008). Furthermore, a 2005 report by the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) concluded that the prices of college textbooks and supplies have risen at twice the rate of inflation over the last two decades. Prices of these goods were 186% higher in December 2004 compared to December 1986, while the prices of other goods rose only 72%. Many students do not purchase the text, even if it is required, in order to cut down on school-related expenses (Owuor, 2006).

One possible solution to this problem is the use of electronic textbooks (e-books), which are cheaper to produce and distribute (Annand, 2008). According to the Association of American Publishers, major US publishers sold $241 million in e-texbooks in 2007, out of a total of $3.5 billion in sales (Guess, 2008). Many e-textbooks are offered through a subscription model in which students rent access to material for a limited time, such as six months (Caldwell, 2008; Hacker, 2010). Other companies offer free materials while earning revenue from selling hard copies of the books and extra materials (such as study guides, interactive quizzes, and podcasts) or selling ads within the book (Owuor, 2006; Rampell, 2008).

This study examines the practices of students who were given the opportunity to use an online e-book for free and/or purchase a low-cost paper copy. The following section reviews the literature on the use of e-books compared to paper books, and then the results of this study are presented.


E-books are becoming more practical and common as computer technology and internet access become widespread. Vernon (2006, p. 420) laid out the basic decision model for people who can choose whether to read an electronic resource. Should I read from the computer screen? If so, should I read online now or save the file and read later? If I print the material out so I can read from paper, should I print out the text and read it now or read it later? As more and more readings (books, articles, other text material) are available online, readers are given increased opportunities to choose the option that works best for them. As e-readers become more popular, reading from a screen instead of a paper may become more popular. However, at the time of this writing, most people prefer to read text that is on paper instead of on a screen, as shown by a variety of studies (Allen, 2008; Annand, 2008; Ismail & Zainab, 2005; Klute, in Redden, 2009; Matthiasdottir & Halldorsdottir, 2007; Mercieca, 2003; Spencer, 2006; Vernon, 2006).

Reading from a computer screen is different from reading from paper in terms of both speed and practice. People read 25-40% slower from a screen, even though they skim more rather than reading details (Krug, 2006; Nielsen, 2000). A majority (53%) of university students in Iceland also reported they could read from paper faster than from a computer screen (Matthiasdottir & Halldorsdottir, 2007). In a study that directly compared the reading speed and comprehension level of people reading the same article from either a computer screen or from paper, those reading from the screen took longer and correctly answered fewer questions about the text (Mayes, Sims & Koonce, 2001). Annand (2008), however, concluded that using e-books does not affect knowledge acquisition. In a similar study, Noyes and Garland (2003) also found no significant differences in readings times or comprehension levels.

Noyes and Garland (2003) found a difference in confidence for learning, with students' confidence for learning from books being significantly higher than their confidence for computer-based learning. Mature students had the highest levels of confidence in book-based learning and the lowest levels of confidence in computer-based learning, despite a lack of age-based differences in attitudes towards books and computers in general (Garland & Noyes, 2005). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.