The Academic Screen; The Next Step for Higher Education?

We teach the next generation to decipher words on a page, but as the form of what constitutes a page shifts, so does the nature of reading.” 

– The Huffington Post

For those reading for academic use, there is a never ending variety of research material available. But in the last decade it would seem that the higher education system has changed, encouraging the use of digital books as a learning resource.

In terms of higher education, academic reading constitutes articles, textbooks and monographs. University libraries across the country now store digital copies of this academic material, but what does it take for a student to opt for the digital version rather than the printed?

Cue the eBook.

Reading digital books (otherwise known as eBooks) have become a part of our reading culture. Today many college and university student’s own devices that will allow them to access and store digital books. It would seem as though using the digital alternative to print, for academic purposes at least, is the natural progression given the way our society today. For example, just look at how you are reading this article.

What does the future look like for University libraries? © Flickr


Accessing information can be stressful for students and being dependent on libraries and bookshops is not always ideal. Today, students in high education especially, need a quick fix.

An advantage to using eBooks in the higher education is the ability to access academic material that may not be available to read in print. For example, old articles might be damaged or fragile and therefore not open to the public. In this scenario, it is not a case of either or, but the only option.

Having access to eBooks can also broaden a student’s research material. Academic scholar Sarah Emily Duff, reports on behalf of The Guardian her own experience with academic resourcing. She regards digital books as a contribution to education as they allow ‘us to open up access to our research to a far wider audience’. Duff seems to point out an important aspect of eBooks – they are universal.

Will digital books overtake print?

Since the rise of digital books, the publishing world has over debated the famous “print is dead” theory. However, could there be some truth with regards to academic reading?

Academic websites are rapidly growing and students are responding to this. Universities across the country subscribe to a variety of websites like Project Gutenberg and Jstor, simply because they understand the demand for easy access to information.

Project Gutenberg is an online website that offers their users 53,000 free eBooks to choose from. I can’t imagine the library would let you take out that many at a time. This organization specializes in creating digital books to preserve cultural work. Websites as such essentially become digital archives for books that libraries have no room for, or like mentioned before, are not allow to stock.

Do not be mistaken, education is still about quality over quantity, but hypothetically speaking, being able to access a lot of research will surely enable students to find quality, quicker.

Libraries have their limits.

Taking out libraries books has its limitations regardless if you are an academic or not. Sometimes libraries do not anticipate the demand for certain books, or the quantity some readers may need. Being able to access countless amounts of reading material online is something that overcomes this issue, and favors eBooks over print in the higher education system.

Although, as much as easy access is an advantage, it also raises the concern as to trust.

Just like reading online, eBooks have readers concerned with how much they can trust the information in front of them. This is something that compromises the integrity of eBooks and should be a concern to the academic reader.

In February early this year, statistics were taken with regards to eBooks sales on Amazon. Indie books sold the most, being responsible for 45% of sales. Considering indie books are self-published, it is evident that there is a high percentage of material out there that can slip through a system of authoritative review.

So should we trust them?

For work to be published in print, an academic reader would associate this with trustworthiness and authority. Surely what an academic reader is looking for in order to validate their own work and ideas.

The editing process of a piece of work is put in place to ensure quality and legal accuracy. For eBooks, the academic reader is forced to take on the publisher’s role and ensure that what they are reading is creditable.

It would seem as though eBooks offer a great number of advantages with regards to access and building knowledge of a subject. However, it would seem that you would need to accept a lack of reliability with eBooks, which is not something students should be lenient on.


Interactivity is something eBooks offer to their readers as a way to engage with a piece of text, changing the traditional reading experience and providing readers with more options than ever before. But does interaction support academic readers?

Education is a click away © Flickr

To understand what is meant by interactive reading, it is best to think of it as being more than just reading; it is two parties engaging with one another. Pedro Martinez-Estrada and Roger Conaway state that ‘electronic tablets offer the user a variety of functions other than the reading of books’. What is meant by this, is how reading has ironically become an aspect of digital books and not the main focus like with print.

With the advantages that come with interactivity, there also comes the drawbacks.

In a recent study 92% of students said that they prefer to hold a books in their hands. Writer Paul Theroux supports this data as he believes ‘something certainly is lost [with regards to digital books] – the physicality of a book, [and] how one makes a book one’s own by reading it’.

In a lecture given by publishing researcher, Alistair Horne, he discussed the progress eBooks have made and also the setbacks that they have faced in previous years. Statistics have demonstrated that eBook sales have been decreasing whilst bookshop sales increase. It would seem Horne’s research aligns with Theroux’s theory.

The invention of the amazon kindle in 2007 was a big game changer in terms of digital publishing. You can download thousands of eBooks for a much cheaper price and carry around your own library.

Drawing upon interactivity, Kindles not only allow you to highlight, bookmark and find definitions, but even adjust visuals such as font, sizing and layout. The role of the publisher is yet again handed over to the reader but in a positive light.

Even though one can also read eBooks on other portable devices such as mobiles, laptops and iPads, the Kindle was specifically designed with a reader in mind. So what does this say about interaction? There is a need for it.

Matt Goolding, the Head of digital marketing at Ribbonfish, states that this generation is ‘geared better towards multimedia than in previous generations’. Essentially, advocating technology as an inevitable next step for the higher education system given that it has become a part of everyday lives.

Reading habits

© Pixabay

If we were to consider reading habits, it would seem that print is the best choice for higher education…

According to Alison Flood’s article for The Guardian, European scholars conducted a social experiment to understand how information is retained when reading on a kindle. Two groups were given the same story however one group read on kindles and the other on paper. Results showed that reading on paper allowed you to remember the most about the story.

To apply the result of the experiment to the question at hand, it would seem to discourage the use of eBooks for higher education. Retaining information is a prominent aspect of learning and therefore it is in the best interest of an academic reader to absorbs as much information as possible.

© Pexels

Despite the well-known stereotype that young adults are physically attached to their digital devices, many survey’s and research has shown that students actually prefer print when it comes to learning. Michael S. Rosenwald for The Washington Post reports that ‘readers tend to skim read on screens, distraction is inevitable and comprehension suffers’. Since technology is a part of our social lives, is seems only natural that the ability to differentiate between leisure and academic is blurred.

To Conclude

Digital books were a popular faze when they were new, and now they seem to have found a niche in the education system. Though it seems they have not necessarily become a significantly better option than print in terms of learning, it will most definitely remain as strong competition for print. Essentially they will become the vinyl equivalent; not completely extinct, but no longer the popular trend.

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Featured Image: © Jisc