There has been much speculation, discussion, debate and even argument, over the eBook in recent times. It seems everybody has an opinion and those opinions often seem to conflict with one another.
There are those who love them, those who hate them and those who have no idea what everyone else is talking about. There are those who laud them as heralding in a new age for literacy and education and those who deride them as a flash in the pan ‘fad’ that will soon fizzle out.
Until fairly recently, I had found my position amidst all of this talk, to largely be one of ‘fence-sitter’. I had no real opinion on the eBook debate. In fact, my opinions were largely shaped by my prior occupation as a young adult and children’s specialist bookseller, and I will admit to being a little fearful of what the eBook might mean for ‘real’ books.
That all changed when my place of employment, Manor Lakes P-12 College, (where I am employed as the Library Coordinator), was asked to participate in the Vic iPad Trial, being conducted by the DEECD mid last year. This meant our cohort of Year 5 students were all given an iPad, so that the Department of Education and we as educators might gauge how useful the iPad was as a teaching and learning device.
It has been a both a privilege and a delight to be an observer for such a trial and I have been fortunate enough to have spent a significant amount of time discussing with our students, the implications of the iPad and eReader.
I am delighted and more than a little excited to report that, in my personal opinion, and solely as a result of observing 100+ students explore and navigate eBooks using an iPad- the iPad may just be the greatest thing to ever happen to books. In fact, I will venture so far as to say, I wonder if the iPad and the interactive nature of eBooks and book related Apps, may be responsible for engaging a whole new generation of readers.
So. What’s so great about eBooks? And why should you invest in using and sharing them with your child?
Interactive eBooks and Apps, allow for your child or young adult to experience books in a completely unique way. Whether introducing books and book friendly technology to a small child or attempting to engage a reluctant or struggling reader, eBooks might just be the most powerful tool in your book bag.
How so? For a start, they allow for unprecedented discovery and exploration of text and illustration’s.
You may have heard teachers, librarians, booksellers and publishers mention the ‘hook’ factor. The ‘hook’ factor is ultimately what draws a reader into a book and piques their curiosity in the hopes of keeping them reading. I have yet to discover an interactive eBook or book App that does not have the ‘hook’ factor completely down pat. The wonderful aspect of this built in ‘hook’ factor, is similar to the phenomena of the book trailer. The reader is engaged enough to want to keep reading.
An excellent example of this is my often and shameless employment of Graeme Base’s eBook, Animalia. This eBook allows for detailed exploration of Graeme’s magnificent illustrations as well as fun exposure to the text. There are games and activities to entice children (and adults alike!) to further explore the illustrations and invariably, this experience always ends with the question, “do you have the real book of this?”. In fact, I get the exact same response when I introduce them to the eBook version of Jungle Drums, also by Graeme Base.
I have discovered that eBooks are a wonderful way to introduce particular books to my students, and it would seem that the students themselves see eBooks as an introduction, for they do always ask me for the ‘real’ book afterward.
I have seen this pattern repeated over and over with reluctant and struggling readers. Often times, reluctant readers and struggling readers are one in the same. They are reluctant because they are having difficulty understanding, enjoying and therefore grasping reading as a pleasurable and worthwhile concept.
eBooks and book related Apps, with their built in functionality for choosing to have text read aloud to them, illustrations that are interactive and encourage the reader to explore and comprehend a large part of the story as a result, and increasingly, embedded video, that assist further with comprehension of the story line, give these readers a power they may never have experienced before.
No longer do they need to sit frustrated with a book, striving to understand text. The interactivity of most eBooks allows them to choose to listen to audio narration of the text and follow along as the words spoken are highlighted before them.
For the more accomplished readers, encountering a word they may not fully understand, becomes a simple double tap on the screen to activate the dictionary functionality. The word is highlighted and the dictionary definition appears, complete with how to pronounce the word and even use it further in a sentence.
Readers are then able to make notes (that are automatically saved to that page) if they wish, allowing them to track their reading progress, challenges and triumphs. Readers are not only engaged, but they begin to experience the delightful thrill of confidence as a reader, that comes from knowing they have tools at hand to assist them with their improvement and enjoyment of reading.
I have seen an increasing number of reluctant and/or struggling students begin to develop a true love of reading and begin to venture towards ‘real’ books, as a result of the newfound confidence they have gained from experimenting with eBooks. Love them or hate them, there is no denying that the eBook is here to stay. I personally, do not think this is a bad thing.
My own experience with students and eBooks has shown me that they are an invaluable and perhaps underused, tool for literacy. A tool that we would do well to embrace.
It is a beautiful thing to see an eBook and a ‘real’ book work seamlessly alongside one another to achieve the end result we all wish to see, a love of reading and a love of books. After all, isn’t that the ultimate objective for us all?
Every child is one book away from a lifetime love of reading.
If you wish to learn more about Manor Lakes P-12 College and our participation in the 1:1 Vic iPad Trial-
Tye Cattanach is Library Coordinator at Manor Lakes P-12 College and has a blog of her own, which can be found here http://bookgryffin.global2.vic.edu.au/