Students' perceptions of using eBooks for authentic learning tasks

Lam Shun-leung, Paul Lam and Carmel McNaught
Chinese University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

Mobile learning can extend learning spaces to places beyond the traditional classrooms, libraries and personal home areas. It may have even greater potential for learning support in Hong Kong where the ownership of mobile devices is among the highest in the world, and where public transport is highly developed, providing opportunities for the time spent on transportation to be readily turned into time for learning.

E-books are 'text in digital form, or digital reading material, or a book in a computer file format, or an electronic file of words and images displayed on a desktop, note-book computer, or portable device, or formatted for display on dedicated e-book readers' (Rao 2003, 86-87). The rapid growth in academic publications in the e-format inevitably leads to its growing importance in the academic world (Lam, Lam and McNaught, in press). While reading digital materials such as newspapers is considered to have a high market value in Hong Kong (Leung, Chan and Chan 2003), less is known about the value of reading academic e-materials for the purpose of learning.

In this study, we investigated the use of academic e-books in a higher education setting. A qualitative research method was used to study three students who used the e-books in near-natural settings over an extended period of time (four months). Evaluation data included the students' opinions posted in their weekly blogs, surveys and face-to-face interviews with the researchers. Our interest was in identifying the real potential of the technology as a useful learning tool (not just perceived potentials by students who have only a limited introduction to e-books). We also looked at issues related to the practicality of the various procedures required to use the software and hardware, and the ease of use of the technology on a day-to-day basis.

The three students were on the whole conservative about the use of the technology. For example, none of them showed interest in reading more e-books after the study. The aspects of e-books they disliked were analysed and included challenges in setting up the hardware, finding and installing the actual e-books to read, and the reading processes. These challenges and their possible resolutions and implications are elaborated in the paper.