JUST about everything nowadays is going digital. When it comes to electronic books (or e-books), however, there has been a lot of discussion and debate on their usefulness and relevance.
The printed form has notable, good qualities including being easier on the eyes and less distracting.
But the benefits of e-books are aplenty, such as being lightweight and flexible and interactive. And they can be read in the dark.
Law student Adnan Yunus, 20, from Inti International University, said his course utilises both printed and digital reading materials.
“Students here usually use reading materials adapted from notes that have been prepared by lecturers. The primary material that students and lecturers still rely on are hard copy textbooks. However, we are also encouraged to undertake extensive research online.”
Nurul Nabilah Sulaiman, 24, a quantity surveying undergraduate from International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), said: “Our lecturers provide materials online. We are also encouraged to read books so that we can get the bigger picture of what the topic is all about.
“There were one or two classes which required us to purchase reference books,” said Nurul.
Do students read texts on-screen as effectively as they do on paper? Can students learn better from one type of reading material compared to the other?
HigherED spoke to students and lecturers from various fields to get their views.
IIUM Psychology student Rayhana Talib, 23, said that students in her course are expected to purchase printed textbooks which are usually also available in digital form.
The fourth-year student said: “In class, I prefer digital books because of easy access through devices. Plus, you don’t have to carry heavy textbooks to classes.”
“From experience and research, I find that digital resources allow one to skim over information very quickly, which is extremely helpful and complements conventional lectures and classes.
“With e-books, I save on paper and money. Some students also feel that physical textbooks are expensive and I agree that this is one downside. But a visit to the library never hurts. I have been doing so throughout the course of my studies,” said Rayhana.
Muhammad Haziq Shaharuddin, 20, a dentistry undergraduate from Universiti Malaya, said that his lecturers provide online reading materials and he prefers going digital.
“Lecture notes can be accessed through Spectrum, our university’s online learning management system. For additional reading, lecturers will recommend textbooks which we can buy in printed or digital form.
“Digital materials have definitely helped me learn and understand my lessons better compared to printed books. Instead of just reading through long text and pictures, I learn through videos and interactive notes as well. This makes learning much more interesting,” said the first-year student.
Muhammad Haziq added that it is also easier to take notes during lecturers and classes using a digital device.
“I use a stylus pen and an app called Notability for highlighting and jotting down notes. The app allows me to open two files simultaneously on a screen which is useful when I want to write my notes while referring to an e-book.
“My digital notes are a lot more organised and colourful compared to ones written on paper. The fact that I can zoom in and out of the screen helps me a lot”.
The first-year dentistry undergraduate added that it is more convenient, saying: “Every morning I just pack my device in my bag and I’m good to go. There’s no need for me to bring thick and heavy books or files to class when I have everything that I need on my iPad.”
Michelle Lim Ke Wei, 22, who studies at Tunku Abdul Rahman University College, does not encounter problems studying using e-books.
“I highlight my notes on my iPad and it is very convenient. Normally, I will download the notes from Google Classroom or from a website journal and save it in PDF format.
“Printed books usually do not include the latest news on certain topics of discussion. Hence, I go for digital resources to help me better understand certain issues in my studies.”
However, there are also many students who find reading printed materials and books as being a much better option for learning and studying.
Both Adnan and Nurul Nabilah said that they prefer reading printed books.
“I find that I am able to absorb information better when they come from printed materials,” said Adnan.
“I also find that hardcopy books are more convenient compared to digital resources. Reading on-screen can be problemetic when they is lagging issues that happens from time to time when using a digital platform or device,” added Nurul Nabilah.
Ethan Wong Hsien Aun, 20 from Monash University Malaysia, agrees that physical books help him learn more effectively.
“The conventional pencil-and-paper approach to taking down notes allows me to retain and recall information better.
“By physically writing, I can make sense of my notes. I can draw mind maps and I connect pieces of information together faster,” said Wong, a tropical environmental biology undergraduate.
Wong added that he may use e-books during lectures but he does not do so when it comes to doing revisions.
“I normally transfer the e-notes onto paper by writing them all out as preparation for examinations.”
“I try to reduce my dependence on reading digitally because it can be glaring and it makes me susceptible to slacking off as I may scroll through social media. The sound of a notification can also rob my attention and disrupt my focus,” said the third year undergraduate, who added that he would put away his laptop and other devices when carrying out revisions.
For Adnan, he needs to internalise information that he has learnt, as it is not just about retaining them. This is why he prefers physical books.
“The best way to remember a subject matter is to create and draft out our own notes on a piece of paper or by using mobile devices. This allows us to identify important points and to critically analyse and decipher what is important.
“With on-screen reading, I rarely find the right source on a subject immediately. It is important for students to know what they are looking for. With physical books, the sources of information are more specific,” he said.
Adnan said that although a vast amount of content exist on digital platforms, it can easily cause him to lose concentration.
“Personally, reading on-screen is a challenge because my attention and focus are constantly disrupted.”
Adnan added: “I often go through research databases to gain additional information which is important when studying for exams.
“Searching for information online can be tough as it is mentally exhausting and there is endless amount of information to sift through.
“For me, reading from a physical textbook or journal for a couple of hours is more manageable. I find that I am able to retain information better this way,” he said.
For Nurul Nabilah, reading physical books leads to a better understanding. “I am able to take down notes and scribble, especially the parts which I do not understand. Later, I can refer to my lecturers or friends who can help me.”
Despite preferring e-books for in-class references, Rayhana still relies on physical books for revision.
“In understanding what is learnt, they are a much better option. They have fewer distractions — as people tend to multitask when on their devices — and it is easier to read and comprehend information when you can flip through pages.
“When preparing for exams, there are a lot of materials to read. So, if I rely on digital resources, it will take a considerably longer time to finish reading and comprehending it all. I would also need time for my eyes to rest and recover from the glare of the screen,” said Rayhana.
Muhammad Haziq, meanwhile, uses the iPad to access e-books when preparing for exams.
“The iPad helps me study faster. Whenever I need to search for something, instead of flipping through the pages, the search bar leads me to the exact page or content. I use this tool a lot and this helps me save time.”
However, he admitted that there are distractions. “Sometimes I do take a break to watch Youtube videos or play games,” he admitted.
PROS AND CONS
Dihlvinder Kaur Gill, an INTI International University Law lecturer, said that using e-books is a positive step forward.
“When used simultaneously, online and printed resources provide students with a versatile learning experience. Interactive materials serve to enhance the students’ understanding by reinforcing concepts through a visual manner and encourages active learning.
“I usually assign additional reading materials which include case studies in both printed and digital formats,” said the senior lecturer.
Associate Professor Dr.Tan Chee Pin, Mechatronics Engineering programme head at Monash University, said that digital materials provide a more thorough form of guidance.
“Students are able to see and piece relevant concepts together more easily, as opposed to having the facts displayed all at once.
However, Tan personally prefers printed books. “There is a great advantage to having physical books — it feels more natural and it is easier to annotate and manipulate. It is more engaging to have something physical, especially if the topic is deep and requires a lot of abstract thinking.”
Associate professor Dr Firdaus Hariri, the deputy dean of UM’s Dentistry Faculty, said: “People today want everything to be at their fingertips. I think most institutions are moving towards e-books and e-learning.
“Subjects such as Anatomy are now being taught via virtual reality. Students can have immediate access to digital resources during discussions and clinical sessions.”
Dr Roziha Che Haron, a quantity surveying lecturer at IIUM, said that she prefers students to use and refer to printed materials for certain subjects.
“For instance, in principles of measurement, students need to be equipped with the Malaysian Standard Method of Measurement (SMM).
“But there is a need to adopt various techniques to better teach the younger generation. E-books make them adept at understanding subjects better,” Roziha pointed out.
Pamilia Lourdunathan Andrew, a psychology lecturer at IIUM, said: “Digital books are more appealing as they can be accessed while waiting for public transportation or during train rides.
However, Pamilia highlighted that printed books are equally important.
“For example, dated books from founders of psychology theories are vital for learning, and not all of these are readily available online,” said Pamilia.
Associate Professor Dr. Dorothy Dewitt, from UM’s Education Faculty, said that e-books can enhance students’ learning experience.
“With digital resources, you can utilise both audio and visual channels. If students just read and read, they won’t remember what they are supposed to learn,” said Dewitt.
She cited Allan Paivio’s dual-coding theory, which claims that people learn better when they utilise two channels at the same time.
Dewitt added: “By using a device to read, you can synthesise information and write as you read which makes it very useful. And when you click on a certain hyperlink, you will find further resources.
“Looking at research and our students, most of them, especially the undergraduates, prefer the online version. But some older students who are doing their masters and PhD still prefer hard copy books.”
At the end of the day, Dewitt said that everything depends on the pedagogy and students’ individual preferences.
“A book is a book whether it is in digital form or printed. The way you use it is what matters.”