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The Potential of E-books




Dr Priyamvada Agarwal works for Oxford University Press India as a Deputy Product Manager. Here she talks about using e-books for digital natives.

What are you most in need of to teach effectively in the digital age? Everybody would agree that interactive content which can engage students and hold their attention motivates students and enhances learning.

Teaching language skills through the coursebook to students who are digital natives and not digital immigrants can be both boring and time-consuming. Given that, what if the same coursebook could be used in such a manner that the printed exercises could become interactive and thus make existing material more lively, interesting and meaningful? What if something could help the teacher to bring challenge and purpose to the way the coursebook exercises are explored? What if the teacher didn’t have to invest money to make photocopies or to procure resources?

E-books, the digital version of the students’ coursebook, enables the teacher to play with the material in the coursebook, to develop interactive exercises, to add a personalized touch to make the lessons more context-oriented, and to add resources to help students connect instantly with things which aren’t often brought into the classroom. Incredibly easy to use, students’ coursebooks have beautiful illustrations and graphic stories which can be used to prompt discussions, develop predicting skills, etc. Simple features like zoom, hide and reveal, spotlight, etc. can do wonders to make interactive exercises and engage students in their language learning lessons.

Learners (and especially young ones) are able to retain information more easily if pictures, audio and videos are integrated into the lesson. Integrating videos into lessons creates enticing visuals and an interactive envi­ronment in the EFL/ESL classroom. Teaching English through videos also allows teachers to be creative when designing language lessons. As Cundell (2008, 17) notes, “One of the most powerful ways that video can be inte­grated into courses is for the visual represen­tation they provide for learners on otherwise abstract concepts.”

It’s not often you use the Internet at the same time as reading a book. With e-book technology this is commonplace. The teacher can’t get much more interactive and visual than using the audio-video clips in the e-book. Adding hyperlinks enhances the pedagogical value of the coursebook, and finding appropriate teaching materials online is not difficult.

An effective lesson does not nec­essarily require expensive and high-tech materi­als – relevant and contextual audio and videos available on the Internet linked with the lesson enable the student to easily relate to what’s being taught. At the click of a button, the web links direct you to the video to be shown. Moreover, it is a one-time exercise for the teacher because the web link can be easily annotated and saved on a sticky note.

When teaching about places like the Arctic/Antarctic oceans, the moon, or if teaching about some abstract concepts or about wild animals, which may be difficult for some to visualise and imagine, showing a video on the subject adds an additional layer of context and comprehension.

The multitude of enhancements that can be made to the digital version of a coursebook is a compelling reason to explore the potential of e-books in classroom instruction even at the primary and middle level.

If you are using e-books in the classroom, share your experiences and some of the interesting activities that engage students in the comments below.

Cundell, A. 2008. The integration of effective technologies for language learning and teaching. In Educational technology in the Arabian Gulf: Theory, research and pedagogy, ed. P. Davidson, J. Shewell, and W. J. Moore, 13–23. Dubai: TESOL Arabia.

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  1. Some other considerations:

    1: This is a great way to enlist teachers as unpaid members of the sales forces of companies like Apple. This is just the sort of thing that the guys at 1 The Infinite Loop, Cupertino love.

    2: This is also a great way to hold back the development of attention spans. In other words, it is great preparation for the culture of distraction. “A page of text without a link to something else? OMG!!”

    3: “…things which aren’t often brought into the classroom.” How about the imagination? If every text needs to be enlivened with visuals, let’s just consider the imagination obsolete.

    4: “One of the most powerful ways that video can be inte­grated into courses is for the visual represen­tation they provide for learners on otherwise abstract concepts.” Did someone actually say that? Should they be quoted? Part of the beauty and power of abstract concepts is that they cannot be visualised. Through abstraction the mind goes beyond what is, and that holds the prospect of putting an end to the mindless repetition of the status quo. To think that abstraction has to be taught through visuals is to leave the mind shackled to the untruth of the present.

    • Dear Tom

      I was just wondering to whom are these teachers advocating to buy the ebooks because the ebooks mentioned here are used just by the teachers to facilitate in classroom instruction. They are based on print-on-screen approach. So they do not even talk about replacing the coursebook which still remains indispensable.

      Let’s face it: today’s students are experts at using social networking tools, gaming and digital resources. Their attention spans are shorter. They’ve come to expect mobility, interactivity and accessibility both inside and outside of the classroom. We’re helping meet those student demands with the next generation of teaching and learning tools for educators and students.

      Aren’t there times when even a teacher needs some help in order to authenticate one’s imagination? Integrating a video or a visual at any stage of the lesson is left at the discretion of the teacher. The teacher should cetainly let the students’ imagination be activated but to facilitate better comprehension, if a visual is used at any stage, does that cause any harm? If it were so, then the use of realia and flash cards are also questionable.

      Below is a link of an article on ” Teacing Abstract Concepts in EFL Classroom” which appeared in one of the very reputed journals.
      Here also the writer talks of asking the students to prepare a visual presentation of an abstract concept like “freedom”. The point is just that a video for an abstract concept can just help in the classroom to offer a take off point or can facilitate teaching and learning.
      Probably, that is the reason, in the classroom the teacher is expected to be standing on a spring board where he or she has to be quick and intelligent to decide what and how to teach.

      Hasn’t Dr. Dennis O’Grady rightly said, “Change has a bad reputation in our society. But it isn’t all bad — not by any means. In fact, change is necessary in life — to keep us moving … to keep us growing … to keep us interested . … Imagine life without change. It would be static … boring … dull.”

      • Let me just respond briefly to your reference to change. I am surprised that you read my comment as a hymn to stasis. Far from it. I am all for change. The question is: What sort of change? At the moment there is an accelerating production of blingy, high-tech gadgetry. It disturbs me to see teachers and others connected with education becoming uncritical advocates of that development. Why all the new tech? Where has the impulse for it arisen from? Is it in the fundamental needs of children. No, it arises from the economic needs of corporations. The educational establishment could have achieved some kind of autonomy and been a beacon for a culture pursued independently of corporate interests. Perhaps it can still achieve some of that autonomy. If so, that is a change worth striving for. The striving would have to involve helping both teachers and students get some critical distance on the crazy commerce-driven world they find themselves in. Going into the classrooms of students who might be from poor backgrounds, flashing Kindles and iPads in front of them, gives out a subtle and unmistakable message that progress equals the accumulation of more and more blingy tech, i.e. that progress equals more of the same (which, despite the appearance of change, is really just the worst kind of stasis).

        • Dear Tom

          Commercialization has been lucky enough to penetrate in each and every aspect of life. But apart from that , however inundated the market be with high-tech gadgetry only the useful will survive. It is a well known fact that anything superfluous will die a natural death. Lets at least explore the opportunities e book offers to facilitate teaching and learning.

          Even in schools in rural areas IWBs are used. Given that, a ebook can be housed in them. No where is it mandatory to use an Ipad kind of gadget.

          ICT is definitely here to stay in education. Alike podcasts, wikis, IWBs, etc ebook is just a type.

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  3. Dear Priyamvada!
    How delighted I feel reading your lovely article! If you walk down the memory lane ELTAI had brought us together when I had the honour of receiving the Best Paper Presentation award way back in 2012.
    I would love to share some experiments in the classroom on your prestigious site. How do I go about it. ?
    Please write to me [email protected] if you have spare time some day. Would love to connect.

    • Hi
      I remember so distinctly. Was a pleasure to meet you. Glad you liked the article. This particular blog is a closed blog. Only OUP people or guests bloggers, when invited, can write. In case if you are interested you may write for school newsletter that OUPI publishes. You may send an expression of interest to me which I’d forward to the concerned person. My email id is [email protected]

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