Tools and Features to Look For

Research shows tremendous advantages to using study tools built into most e-reading tools. Chen (2015) confirmed the valuable impact for learning that tools like highlighters, sticky notes and search options offer. Additionally, according to Van Horne, Russell, and Schuh (2016) “interaction between bookmark usage and amount of reading was positively associated with course grades.” It is be especially important to help support struggling, accommodated learners, and international learners as they use digital texts.

Know the Features

The first factor to consider when teaching with digital texts is how well you know the features built into the app that delivers it. As a general rule, assume that if it can be done with a print book, it can likely be done with a digital one.

common ereader tools like highlighters, search, notes, sharing and links
Common eReader tools, including highlighters, sticky notes, links, search, and sharing features.

Explore the features in the eReader app on a mobile device or computer. Keep in mind that while these two worlds should be very similar, they may have slightly different capabilities. If you’re not a digital reader yourself, find time to get familiar with tools like:

  • tables of contents
  • highlighters
  • sticky notes
  • search bars
  • sharing features
  • linking to chapters or pages.

These will be different in different apps, platforms or publisher portals.

Model In Class

The specific app used in your course may be completely new to your students. Different publishers and providers use completely different user interfaces, and international students in particular may have never interacted with digital texts before. This makes live demonstration and scaffolded use of a digital text crucial to their academic success.

Make an effort to be explicit in helping students learn to use features in an eReader app. Model using them in class, live, in front of the students. Narrate what you are doing. For example, you might model how to highlight. Show yourself using the highlighter to colour-code content, e.g. everything highlighted in purple is a key course term, whereas all yellow indicates relevant research. Allow time for students to practice this in class, by giving them questions to answer about the first relevant chapter(s).

Make sure to point out features that let students have the text read aloud, increase the font size or dictate notes – these are important to giving an accessible text experience.

Embed Active Learning Strategies

  • Run a textbook scavenger hunt. Pair students up, requiring they complete mini-tasks to learn about each of the above tools.
  • Create an example chapter with highlights and notes. Share these to students. Point out how you used highlighters to identify key points, and sticky notes to ask questions.
  • Create study tasks that require students to use these features. Be flexible though in how they can use them – ask learners to adapt behaviours to their own reading preferences.
  • Create assignments that would be best facilitated by using these features, like collecting highlights from several chapters to create study notes or a summary of learning.
  • Incorporate reflective feedback. Ask students to include in their assignment a paragraph considering how the features in the ereader app helped their study habits, or what they’d like to start doing differently.
  • Have students share chapter highlights with each other, and compare the differences, creating a list of shared key themes and selections.
  • Create a discussion post or do a think-pair-share in class about how the digital text is helping them study.
  • Give the students a list of key terms to search and study at the beginning of term. Throughout classes, point them towards using the Search function to locate information efficiently. 

Prepare for Mistakes

Students learn well from analyzing mistakes and critiquing negative exemplars. Make a sample chapter full of common studying problems, and ask them to advise on how this “anonymous person” can improve their study habits.

Caution students about ways the digital textbook can be misused. Perhaps create in class mini tasks that demonstrate things like:

  • how ineffective it can be to highlight too much of the chapter;
  • how ignoring the search and table of contents can be an inefficient use of study time;
  • how inconsistent colour coding can be confusing;
  • how copying and pasting directly into personal study notes can lead to inadvertent plagiarism;
  • how overusing the sticky notes can bury good thinking and questions.

Identify any technical difficulties with the digital text app. Create a discussion board for errors and troubleshooting tips with using the app. Respond to questions online and/or in class, and keep the use of the tool part of the classroom learning discussion.

Revisit Assessments

It can be all too easy to copy and paste directly from a digital textbook, and make mistakes in citations. Make an effort to plagiarism proof your assessments. In your assignments dropbox, enable a course draft assignment box where students can check all of their work before final submission. If used in your context, enable the Originality Checker (Turnitin) in all Assignment boxes.

Try a 50/50 test. Choose a lower stakes assessment, like a quiz or a small test early in the semester. Have students first do the quiz or test under strict controls, in class, without the digital text. In a live survey, ask them to reflect on how well they feel they represented their knowledge and learning. Then, provide a washroom break and have the students take the same test again. This time, allow them to use their digital text. In a follow up survey, ask them to reflect on the different quality of responses they were able to deliver on the quizzes or tests. This works especially well if done early in the semester, as it highlights the usefulness of the digital text.

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