Where’s the Research?! A Plea for Expanding the Evidence on Ebooks and Educational Technology

I am currently co-facilitating a faculty panel on ebooks at my institution’s upcoming Humanities Symposium. I will be providing context and research results on the use of ebooks for academic study. I will post reflections from that panel here after the session. I’m looking forward to hearing from faculty on campus about some pilot projects.

Given the incredible excitement and discussions about ebooks across the nation, imagine my surprise when I had difficulty finding published research on the use of ebooks in higher education and its impact on learning. While I was able to find pilot and anecdotal studies, there were very few published research studies on the topic.

If ebooks and educational apps are to be adopted wholesale, rigorous research studies should be designed, published, and indexed in major educational databases for discussion and consideration. Putting aside print books in favor of ebooks have tremendous implications for the learning process, and these should be explored.

Studies of this nature are beginning to disseminate, but formal publication is needed for improved access to the research. We shouldn’t be surprised when research shows mixed results on the use of technology such as iPads; nothing is perfect!

One major goal of a liberal arts education is the ability to critically analyze information and ideas.  How can we ask this of our students if we jump on the bandwagon of ebooks and other educational technology without critically analyzing the implications on learning. Indeed, even the media is starting to question the lack of evidence for these interventions.

And after its exhaustive national investigation of the trend, The New York Times concluded that “schools are spending billions on technology, even as they cut budgets and lay off teachers, with little proof that this approach is improving basic learning.” In lieu of empirical data, why are schools rushing into this brave new world of technology?

The first step in this analysis is the presence of well-designed research and the wherewithal to analyze and act on that evidence. I hope that this opinion piece about the President’s recent push for digital texts is heeded.

the Obama Administration’s push for digital textbooks, while useful, represents initial steps on the proverbial thousand mile journey. If we commit to rigorous, analytical education technology, the payoff for student learning and for society will be much larger. We know we’re underperforming many other nations in K-12 today, and failing to develop the human potential of millions of our young people. We also know that education is one of the few sectors that has remained immune to the progress technology can bring. I’m convinced that if districts, educators, and technologists work together — and if we make sure new technologies are never embraced for their own sake but rather for how they can demonstrably change teaching and learning, then the gains for America’s civic life and economic future will be enormous.

What do you think?  Have you found research on the impact of ebooks or educational technology on learning in higher education? I would love to read them; please post citations or links!

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