Developing an e-reader and e-publishing model for flexible and open learning on a distance learning LLB programme

Developing an e-reader and e-publishing model for flexible and open learning on a distance learning LLB programme

Patricia McKellar [1]

Steven Warburton [2]

Cite as: McKellar, P., Warburton, S., ' Developing an e-reader and e-publishing model for flexible and open learning on a distance learning LLB programme', European Journal of Law and Technology, Vol. 4, No. 1, 2013


This paper describes a research project exploring the use of eBooks and e-readers for the delivery of learning materials and activities on a distance learning LLB course. The project aimed to discover whether an e-publishing platform, comprising e-reader and e-content, represented an effective delivery method for legal study materials that can enhance the student learning experience and influence their expectations and approaches to their studies. The project situated itself at the intersection of three powerful forces: first, the increasing interest in the use of digital eBook formats by the publishing community; second, the appetite for the use of e-reader devices and eContent for learning and teaching; third, the explosion in the range and availability of mobile internet devices such as e-readers and tablets. A controlled pilot was carried out with four groups of distance learning students located in Kenya, Singapore, UK and Germany. All of the students received a Kobo e-reader device and ePub versions of material that had previously been supplied in hardcopy, this included study guides and associated text books commissioned from mainstream publishing houses. The use of the devices and the eContent were evaluated over a six month period and the paper describes the results from questionnaires and focus groups that revealed the four dimensions of interest: device usability and functionality; user context and behaviour; the affordances of epub formats; the impact on learning and teaching. The effectiveness of the e-publishing model that was established between the University of London International Programmes, publishing houses and the e-reader device manufacturer Kobo is described alongside the impact on the changing role of traditional publishers, teachers, and librarians.

1. Introduction

The continued growth in e-book publishing combined with the increasing availability and ownership of affordable e-reader devices has created interest in Higher Education (HE) as to the potential impact of e-publishing platforms i.e. e-content plus e-reader on supporting learning and teaching activities, particularly in terms of: accessibility to electronic learning resources; the mobility of the learner; motivation and engagement with learning. The Horizon Report is a research venture established in 2002 and reports annually on the emerging technologies most likely to have a significant impact on the global educational sector within the next five years. The 2011 report identified the mainstream adoption horizon for e-readers and e-books of being up to one year (Johnson et al. 2011). They described the potential in this area as follows:

'Now that they are firmly established in the consumer sector, electronic books are beginning to demonstrate capabilities that challenge the very definition of reading. Audiovisual, interactive, and social elements enhance the informational content of books and magazines. Social tools extend the reader's experience into the larger world, connecting readers with one another and enabling deeper, collaborative explorations of the text.'
(Johnson et al., Horizon Report 2011)

At the current time there is no large scale adoption of e-reader-based technologies or e-publishing platforms within HE institutions that deliver educational programmes within the UK or out to a global market.

The University of Leicester has carried out a small-scale study with e-readers on a distance learning programme delivered to overseas Masters level students. The results were encouraging and reported that students viewed the e-reader positively and as meeting the needs of the mobile learner's lifestyle (Nie, et al. 2010). At that time, despite the value of the project, the work identified two barriers to sustainability:

  1. the ownership model placed the cost of the e-reader devices on the university and the price of the technology made it prohibitively expensive for them to continue to supply learners with the devices;
  2. obtaining the agreement of publishers to preload copyrighted materials such as e-books and journal articles was not straightforward.

Two things have occurred since the time of the study described above. First, strong competition in the e-reader and mobile internet device (MID) marketplace has increased the range and functionalities of availability of e-reader devices and at the same time reduced their cost. Second, significant numbers of laws texts are now available as e-books and publishers are now far more open to alternative delivery and publishing arrangements (Rainieet al., 2012), particularly in standardised eBook formats such as ePub. [3] What we are seeing are continued trends in the proliferation and acceptance of mobile eReading devices. As display screens continue to improve we can observe the willingness of the general public, especially those readers under 30 years of age, to read exclusively on the screen increases (Huang, Liang, Su, & Chen, 2012). The extended reading of large quantities of text on a computer screen that often caused eye fatigue (Kang et al., 2009) is eliminated by new approaches to display technologies such as e-ink and high resolution screens.

1.1 Overview of current research into the use of e-readers

It is not easy to provide a conclusive response to the question of whether e-readers and MIDs will be a key channel in the future for delivering learning and teaching materials for HE. This picture is complicated by continual technological advances, such as upgrades and modifications in the functionality and connectivity of e-reader devices. What is evident is that e-readers are growing in popularity in the leisure reading market. Statistics from eMarketer suggested that by the end of 2011, 8.7% of the US adult population would own an e-reader (Kindle, Sony Reader, Nook or similar device) and this would increase to 12% by 2012. [4] Figures now suggest that 28% of adults in the US own and use an e-reader. [5] Similarly ebooks are taking hold with the general public as Amazon reveal that it now sells more copies of its Kindle books than paperbacks. [6] The continued rise of e-reading as a form of media consumption is also documented in a recent Pew Internet report (Raine et al., 2012). The statistics gathered here reveal the change in culture, from an American perspective, in the shift from paper to digital materials with people now preferring to read e-books when they want fast speedy access to material. The e-reader has moved from being a remote gizmo to becoming a mainstream product that has been adopted by many - visible on the High Street, on public transport, at the office, on holiday or at home. They are also being used in the developing world with some success in school education in Africa and in projects with the World Bank. [7] [8].

As yet there have been limited studies in their use in education in the UK at either school or HE levels although, as noted above, e-readers were part of a larger project run by Gilly Salmon at the University of Leicester. There have been several studies in the US, some of which are highlighted here:

  • A large scale study, developed by Amazon, involving seven universities in the US including University of Washington and University of Virginia which distributed Kindle devices to students on a variety of courses from September 2010. This study, which reported in May 2011, had mixed results and was not a ringing endorsement for the use of e-readers. [9] The Kindle was praised as a device for leisure reading but students were unsure as to its use in education [10].
  • A study at Queens College, City University of New York to identify ownerships and usage statistics. This study in 2010 found that price was the greatest barrier to e-reader adoption. [11]
  • A pilot study run by at Santa Monica University involved the students purchasing an online custom course pack for use on a digital e-reader. This project used an application called AcademicPub, launched in May 2011, which aims to be a gateway for new e-textbooks and custom made course materials [12].
  • A case study at California Lutheran University to explore how course use of an e-reader affects student learning [13].

These and other studies have revealed a number of themes, drawn from comments by students, on the potential impact and perceived value of e-readers as an educational tool and include items such as the ease of note-taking, navigation, portability, usability, depth of engagement and cost.

1.2 International Programmes and the Undergraduate Laws Programme (ULP)

The context of this study is the Undergraduate Laws Programme delivered at a distance by the University of London International Programmes based in the UK. Students studying on the Laws Programme have traditionally received a subject guide, which directs them through the substantive material, along with a number of essential text books in hard copy. This is supplemented by a hard copy study pack which contains excerpts from relevant texts, articles and other copyright cleared materials. In addition students have access to a virtual learning environment (VLE) that houses a limited range of rich media resources in video and audio formats. One of the driving forces behind exploring the value of an e-publishing platform has been the desire to alleviate the need to send out vast numbers of hardcopy resources to students, potentially making more resources available to them in a more accessible and engaging manner, and to help foster the delivery of a more sustainable and more lean (Holweg, 2007) educational model. The ULP draws a large volume of students from a broad demographic and cultural base. In 2012/13 student registrations were around 18,000 in over 50 countries. Around 70% of students receive additional tutorial support from local educational providers either full or part time. The remaining students are self study and they will use the direction and materials provided by University of London to complete their study. In view of the flexibility of the programme and the professional requirements of different jurisdictions students are drawn from a variety of backgrounds and will attempt study at different stages of their educational journey. There is no 'typical London student' with students having different cultures, commitments, broadband availability, country infrastructure, previous educational/ professional experiences and reasons for study.

1.3 Objectives of the study

This project aimed to discover whether an e-publishing platform, comprising e-reader and e-content delivery, represented an effective delivery method for legal studies materials that could enhance the student learning and teaching experience. The project did this by undertaking a controlled pilot with a group of distance learning students on the ULP where, rather than leaving students to experiment using the e-reader with little direction, students were given specific tasks and asked to feedback on certain aspects of what they were requested to do.

The key objectives of the project were to:

  1. Assess the e-reader as an effective device for delivery of resources to students on an undergraduate law distance learning course terms of access to learning materials;
  2. Explore the key affordances of an e-reader/e-content delivery platform that allow for flexibility and mobility in learner study patterns, particularly in relation to students with varying levels of digital literacy, including a comparison where applicable of UK-based students with host countries with minimal supporting IT infrastructure;
  3. Observe and evaluate any changes in study patterns and learning behaviour when using e-readers as opposed to hard copy materials;
  4. Assess ownership and scalability issues to help devise a usable model for transferability of the project results;

The outcomes of the project are targeted towards those in the legal education community but the work presented here has the ability to make a powerful impact in an area of innovative uses technology enhanced learning. The overview of the project elements are shown below (see Figure 1).

Figure 1: An overview of the main elements within the project showing the fours key actors that were brought together: publishers (internal publishing teams and external publishers); technology manufacturer; University of London (UoL) and undergraduate students studying the LLB programme.

2. Methodology

This study took a longitudinal approach to investigating the use of e-reader devices over a period of nine months. Rather than issue the e-readers and then follow up evaluation at the end of the course, we aimed to monitor the students over time and direct their activities with the device, while obtaining feedback more contemporaneously. In this way we aimed to collect more qualitative feedback on the usability and pedagogical validity of the e-reader.

2.1 Pilot groups

The study was based around four small-scale pilots with 20 students in each of the following locations: Singapore, Germany, UK and Kenya. These 80 students in total were all linked to a teaching institution. An additional pilot with 20 UK based self study-students was also included in the study. This resulted in a total of 100 students involved in the study.

2.2 Four phases of activity

The study was broken down into four clear phases of activity as described here:

2.2.1 Phase One: preparation, planning and device selection

The project team carried out a literature review to set parameters for the project and establish what evidence is currently available in the domain of e-readers and eBooks. The project team undertook a review of the technical specification of the e-reader and e-publishing mechanisms including: wi-fi versus 3G; bulk uploading of documents; country specifications; the availability of self-publishing platforms e.g. Amazon Createspace [14]; and the availability of digital book management tools e.g. Calibre [15] . We developed a formally structured evaluation process with guidelines for staff and students to ensure key project data was obtained, retained and stored. The key parameters examined in choosing the device are listed below with a comparison made across the leading devices in the area at the time of the study. The Kobo e-reader was evaluated by the two project investigators (see Figure 2 below) scored well in all areas and was chosen as the test device for this pilot. While there were a number of criteria used the most difficult to meet was protection of the publisher's digital rights.

E-reader device evaluation and testing parameters:

  1. Usability: navigation, readability, connectedness
  2. Cost
  3. Ability to deploy Digital Rights Management with eContent
  4. Physical characteristics: screen size, robustness, weight
  5. Level of standardization: eBooks formats supported
  6. Global reach: availability across different world zones

Figure 2: The Kobo eReader device with touchscreen and eInk technology. These devices were distributed to all students taking part in the pilot.

2.2.2 Phase Two: Student selection and collation of materials

Along with the support of our national and international partner institutions we selected students to take part in the study. Students were informed in advance of our expectations for their participation that included a commitment to take part in all planned activities within specified timeframes. The project team also worked with the ULP Subject Convenors in the chosen subject areas of Contract and Criminal Law to map the availability of digital resources and how these converge with materials given to students in other formats. Copyright clearance for the selected materials was sought from appropriate publishers and bulk uploads of the materials were negotiated and facilitated via the Kobo device manufacturers. For the pilot study the loading of materials onto the e-reader included the Subject Guides as well as core textbooks for two courses in the first year of the Laws Programme. The Subject Guides are published 'in house' and contain the necessary content, guidance and framework for the students to allow them to complete the course as a distance learner. For the core textbooks we worked closely with the publishers Oxford University Press and Palgrave MacMillan to produce ePub formatted digital versions and respected the copyright restrictions by ensuring that the online Kobo store was used to automatically deliver the textbooks to individual participants with DRM [16] applied.

2.2.3 Phase Three: implementation

E-readers were delivered to students and training resources provided in use of e-readers, (e.g. bespoke guidance documents were emailed to students instructing them on how to download University of London resources and how to access the e-books), alongside details of our evaluation methodology. Staff members in partner institutions were also trained to help provide a fall back support mechanism as well as encourage students in their participation in the study. Implementation included the use of 'push technology' via wireless connectivity to test the introduction of additional resources during the running of the course. Evidence was collected from the main stakeholders identified in this project: students, tutors at partner institutions, publishers, Subject Convenors, IT developers and the project team. Students were administered an entry questionnaire before undertaking project questionnaires and focus groups on the project activities. Some of the data was collated for each jurisdiction to provide data that would give insights into regional differences, before being collated. The task flow for the activities that formed the core of the pilot study is detailed in Figure 3 below.

Figure 3: Task flow for the e-reader and study showing the flow of activities from (i) acquisition of the e-reader device and basic set-up through to (ii) manipulation of eContent and finally (iii) the use of the enhanced capabilities such as annotation and sharing content.

2.2.4 Phase four: Evaluation

Evaluation was carried out according to the developed plan and included the pre project questionnaire to students and staff, post training questionnaire, facilitated and structured focus groups. Post analysis of data by the project team included collating and coding the emerging themes. The overall evaluation methodology adopted for the project was that of integrative evaluation (Draper et al. 1996). This methodology uses mixed methods and multiple data sources to develop an overall picture of the use of an application, highlighting issues, drivers and barriers. In this manner it seeks to discover how an educational intervention performs by observing and measuring the teaching and learning process. While it seeks to address specific aspects it also allows for the emergence of unanticipated findings as a result of the analysis of data. Over the course of the project there were in effect a number of mini projects i.e. each jurisdiction formed a testing group and this evaluation method allows the evaluator to feed results across projects to inform each other as they deem appropriate and valuable.

3. Results

In this section we present the results gathered from qualitative and quantitative investigations with the project participants across the four pilot jurisdictions.

3.1. Student entry questionnaires

In the first part of the study the students were given a pre-entry questionnaire to complete. This was completed face-to-face with the participants. From the analysis of the results we were able to gain insight into their technical ability and previous experience with digital content and devices such as ebooks and e-readers. The majority of students self-assessed as technically literate and all possessed experience in using computers regularly in their studies. The most used technology was the mobile phone with a high proportion of the students owning smart phones. All participants had access to a computer either at home or place of study and all participants were able to access a wireless connection with varying speeds. Some the participants indicated their lack of exposure to eBooks and only one of the participants had previously used an eBook reader although many had an awareness of the Amazon Kindle.

3.2 Setting up the device and manipulation

In the first part of the pilot we were interested in the ability of the participants to engage successfully with the device out of the box. This question was posed directly:

Q. How easy was the device to use?
On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is very easy and 10 is very difficult. Overall students were comfortable with the set up functionality. This could be explained by the fact that students were introduced to the devices in a workshop which specifically trained them in the set up and use of the e-reader.











20.8% (11)

24.5% (13)

18.9% (10)

9.4% (5)

13.2% (7)

7.5% (4)

3.8% (2)

1.9% (1)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

Results show % percentage and (number of responses)

Mean = 3.17
n = 53

The student comments reflected the ease with which they were able to adapt to using the e-reader, though not all comments were entirely positive:

'It's really self explaining and functions intuitive.'
'The Kobo has a user-friendly interface and handles .pdf files well. Slightly better navigation options would be helpful.'
'It's super and very intuitive. Family members have Kindles and I much prefer the touch interface of the Kobo.'
'I wish the device was a bit faster'

One UK Student was able to provide a detailed overview of their approach and problems when setting up the e-reader device straight out of the box:

'I am using a Mac and […] I have to say the task wasn't as easy as I thought it should be. While I was able to drag and drop the file into the Kobo folder, and it was obvious that it was there, it did not appear on my e-reader even though it did update itself after being removed […] even though I could tell it was there looking at the folder […] I tried transferring the file, by dragging and dropping the file again from my desktop into the folder, and then unplugging/updating. On that attempt there were now two copies of the subject guide viewable. I just deleted the second copy.'

3.3 Focus group data

Two focus groups meetings were held in the UK, one in Germany and one workshop in Kenya and another in Singapore. The meetings were recorded (or in the case of workshops detailed notes taken), transcribed and then analysed using a grounded methodological approach (Glaser, 1967). Data from focus groups and interviews were coded to identify key meta-themes. Four dimensions (see Figure 4) were identified from the coding that are illustrated by the data collected below in Tables 1 to 4 and mapped back to the following initial objectives of the project:

  1. Assess the e-reader as an effective device for delivery of resources to the student;
  2. Explore the key affordances of an e-reader/e-content delivery platform that allow for flexibility and mobility in learner study patterns;
  3. Evaluate any changes in study patterns and learning behaviour when using e-readers;
  4. Assess ownership and scalability issues.

Figure 4: The four meta-dimensions drawn from the coding activity on the focus group data.

Dimension 1:

Participant comments from collected data

Device usability / functionality / Physical

'Convenient and portability, light and handy.'

'Functionality: annotations, bookmarking, highlighting, definition tool, translation tool, return to a section, battery life, search facility'

'Sometimes it's hard to concentrate as it feels like staring at a PC'

'Easier to carry around hence inclined to finish activities'

'It does not take up as much space when you have so many books to take to uni'

Table 1: Illustrating dimension 1; mapping to project objectives 1 and 4

Dimension 2:

Participant comments from collected data

User context

'The ability to have the subject guide, the study pack, the textbook and access to the online resources and case databases on the 06:19 to Waterloo'

'I can read the materials in situations where I would never have brought and read the hard copy versions'

'Overall I was able to increase my reading hours for a topic'

'The most advantageous thing about the e-reader is the portability. It is very convenient to carry and I can take advantage of many hours in the [traffic] jam to go through the guide.'

Table 2: Illustrating dimension 2; mapping to project objectives 2 and 3

Dimension 3:

Participant comments from collected data

ePub and electronic content format

'A large amount of study material to be stored and accessed on the go'

'A bit too one dimensional [hyperlinks]'

'Footnotes are very accessible and interrupt flow less frequently than reading hard copy'

Table 3: Illustrating dimension 3; mapping to project objectives 1, 2 and 3

Dimension 4:

Participant comments from collected data

Impact on learning teaching and study

'Able to study in more bite size chunks because I had the option of using dead time'

'I can optimise the amount of time I spend studying'

'Impossible to look at two books at once'

'If it was just supplied like this … you'd struggle but in conjunction with the VLE or hard copy it's perfect'

'In my prior classes I often did not do the 'further reading' since the books were so heavy'

'Attention were retention improved'

'It is a better way to study, efficiency when studying is imperative'

Table 4: Illustrating dimension 4; mapping to project objectives 2 and 3

3.4 Advanced functionality

The advance functionalities of the device were tested using two activities based on completing a study activity from the course Subject Guide, using the associated textbook in e-book form on the device and culminated in annotating, highlighting and sharing captured annotations with other participants.

Feedback overall was positive and included comments that it was very useful, easy to create and easy to find, easy to identify information to link to legal arguments, easy to tag for further investigation, makes notes in the one place. Highlighting was more popular than note taking due to the constraints of the virtual keyboard:

'Being a more paper based person I usually prefer to make notes on paper. However the convenience of the entire function when I am on the move allows me to highlight and take notes when paper is unavailable. Thus I have resorted to first making notes in the eReader and later if necessary write it out separately.'

Sharing captured annotations with other students was variably successful. While students welcomed the idea of sharing their annotations/highlights those who did try found that the process not always successful. It was an interesting extension to the device capabilities and would be useful in a study group setting. Students reported that they found the process of annotation not as intuitive as they had hoped. In some ways this was due to the functionality of the device but students also indicated they prefer to colour code their annotations and this was not possible with the nature of the device.

3.5 Final evaluation questionnaire

In our final evaluation we also asked a summary question to gauge the overall experience of students during the study:

Q. How useful do you find having eBooks available on the kobo e-reader?
On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 is very useful and 10 is not at all useful.











45.3% (24)

15.1% (8)

5.7% (3)

7.5% (4)

15.1% (8)

3.8% (2)

5.7% (3)

1.9% (1)

0.0% (0)

0.0% (0)

Results show %age and (number of responses)

Mean = 2.75
n= 53

This positive attitude to the use of e-readers can be illustrated by the following student comments:

'The Kobo has made me develop a reading culture and … it relieved me of carrying heavy books while I was traveling'
'Having my learning materials to hand encourages me more often to cover additional chapters here and there whereas I would have been restricted before using only traditional methods, for instance heavy textbooks.'
'Without the eReader, considering my other commitments, it would be taking me longer to cover the same amount of material and I would not have learned as much as this stage.'
'You never have every book as a hard copy. On the ebook reader you get to carry everything.'
'…with more frequent use it has become an indispensable tool to my legal studies.'

The quotes reflect a common view that the main advantage of the e-reader was its portability and the ability to contain a large volume of reading material. It was also the use of 'dead time' that many students found attractive and the availability of the material anywhere. Many of the students indicated they had some form of commute, either to their place of study or employment and the ease of slipping the e-reader into a pocket made it an invaluable aid to study. However there were students who, while they used the device in transit, still felt they preferred hard copy when 'static'.

'… it is very useful when I am out and traveling but would very much prefer reading the hardcopy textbook if I were at home or in school.'

3.6 Discussion

As technological tool and a method of accessing legal learning materials the e-reader device and the electronic texts were greeted positively by the majority of the participants in the study, across all of the dimensions that were surfaced during the analysis of the results. In terms of the first dimension, usability and functionality it was clear that the physical device, form factor, lightness and portability were all commended. In terms of the technical barriers to using the e-reader these were minor and easily overcome. The biggest difficulties encountered by the participants were in the transfer of documents to the device itself. We noted that where we requested participants to physically link the device to the desktop application, to test the transfer of pdf formatted files, there was confusion as to how this process operated and how documents are stored on the e-reader. Using the automated delivery mechanism of the eBook store overcame these issues and provided a seamless way for wirelessly connected devices to be updated.

Similar to other studies in the area we found a range of issues that referenced the functional features of the device and included issues such as:

  • Hard to look at more than one document
  • Sometimes slow navigation between readings
  • Students using the dictionary to look up words without prompting

Within the second dimension of user context, the focus groups were valuable in revealing how the e-reader had become appropriated into the day-to-day study and travel activities of participants. It was evident that one of the key affordances of the device was to allow participants to reclaim dead time, especially during commuting which many of our students require to undertake to get to their place of employment or study, and transform this into productive study time.

Examining the third dimension of the affordances of the ePub format we found was that participants commented on the fact that close reading was facilitated by the 'isolated page experience'. In other words they found that being able to only view one page of text at a time allowed for concentrated reading, in contrast to reading web pages with embedded hyperlinks or other devices that supported apps that led to distractions from deep reading. This reflected the findings of Smith et al. (2012) who identified a spiral of use that moved outwards from intrinsic features of e-books and e-book readers in the following stages:

  • Basic e-Book Use
  • Situational Reading
  • e-Book and Learning
  • Using Multiple Learning Resources
  • Collaborative/Group Learning
  • e-Book Production

Some contradictions were apparent in this study where completely opposite views were expressed as to the benefit or value of certain features such as search functionality or even battery life. This was indicative of differences between the power users and newer users where first, the device as a technological object was more groundbreaking for some compared to others and second, where power users in this study were able to quickly and effectively embed eBooks and digital content into their existing devices such iPhones and importantly into their approaches to study and lifestyle. As with all technologies, successful appropriation is determined by a combination of socio-technical elements that make up the user, their contact and the tool (Mackay and Gillespie, 1992).

We found in this study that some users expressed a preference for printed books, ignoring some of the advantages offered by the eBook format. Similar results were found in the JISC National E-books Observatory Project (JISC Collections, 2009). In their study they found that the printed book remained a preferred format for several reasons that included: the physicality of the printed book; the perception that a printed book facilitates greater concentration; belief that it is easier when reading to scan a printed book; and the expectation that a printed page is easier to annotate, highlight, and make notes from (JISC Collections, 2009). We found some similar expressions when we investigated the continued use of text books. Part of the explanation for this lies in cultural resistance in the sense that hard copy texts are seen as reflective of a 'proper' way to study and reflect the identity of 'student' more strongly to the individual as they carry a visible signifier of their position as a student of Law. For example one participant commented that the device was more suited as a leisure tool:

'In my opinion, I still prefer to use the eReader to read fiction books available rather than actual studying/reading of textbooks. Thus the eReader would still be for a 'leisure use' rather than a studying tool'

Also, and as noted in the recent JISC report on preparing for the effective adoption and use of ebooks, in many cases, these reasons are a result of people thinking that using ebooks is about making a choice between the digital or printed version (Clay, 2012).

In this study we provided content in both ePub format and in pdf to gauge the usability of these as two potential outputs formats. We found clear reasons for ensuring that both our publisher partners and internal publishing teams were working to a consistent ePub output (in our case ePub v2). Where we tried .pdf formats we found that the students consistently suffered navigation difficulties:

'In terms of the last aspect of the task - navigating through the subject guide - I found that to be more difficult that it had to be as well. I'm not sure if that is because it was a PDF file, but I am not able to navigate through the table of contents as I had wanted. I am only able to move page-by-page, one at a time or do large sweeps using the arrows. If I wanted to look at, e.g., section 16.6, it would be terribly inconvenient to swipe the screen 202 times, and it feels a bit clumsy trying to move the arrows slowly enough to find the exact page you're looking for (even if that saves much more time). '

Under the fourth of the dimension of impact on learning and teaching we found that other studies similar to our own have raised the issue of developing new pedagogies for the use of eBooks. With the advent of html5 as a standard for publishing there is now an enticing opportunity to enrich text books and learning materials with dynamic media, such that they become more dynamic than print texts with embedded video and simulations. Smith et al. (2012) have recognized these evolving pedagogical purposes and propose that e-books may be conceptualized in several different ways:

  • as stand-alone resources to be consulted by individual learners, for convenience or for reasons of preference;
  • as part of an ecology or abundance of resources;
  • as a bridge between informal and formal learning;
  • as new cognitive tools that exploit multimedia capabilities to engage and reinforce learning;
  • as social tools enabling community-building through sharing or collaborative annotation;
  • as a further step towards greater inclusion and accessibility;
  • as part of an emerging industry of self-publishing and disaggregated content
Smith et al. (2012)

Finally, we found that the divide between paper and digital is hard fought with the realisation that both offer value. For example, when considering note-taking, paper is good for a certain style of note taking while the electronic device offers organisational advantages that include having those notes available anywhere and in a reusable form. This dichotomy is captured in the two comments from participants:

'Being a more paper based person I usually prefer to make notes on paper. However the convenience of the entire function when I am on the move allows me to highlight and take notes when paper is unavailable. Thus I have resorted to first making notes in the eReader and later if necessary write it out separately.'
'I tried first with the Kobo e-reader however to do the activities I preferred the hard copy as I could make notes next to the activity itself in the book which I could refer to at a later time. This is a personal study choice.'

4. Conclusions

Digital content distribution is steadily increasing and becoming the de facto mechanism for consuming text, audio, video and music. As the price of mobile Internet devices decreases we find the functionality is increasing and the ownership of devices becoming commonplace. At the time of writing a German company are about to release a dedicated e-Reader device that will cost under £10 per unit [17]. University libraries now offer a far greater range of ways to access digital content and with the advent of managed e-reader and eBook delivery services such as Amazon WhisperCast the opportunities for enterprise level management of devices and content across an institution are within grasp. What we have shown in this study is that students are responding to these changes with an increasing appetite for digital content and to take advantage of the flexible ways that this allows them to carry out their studies. Although the project was undertaken with distance learning students both in the UK and overseas many of the issues this project have addressed also apply to full-time and part-time delivery of legal education and, indeed, Higher Education more broadly in the UK.

With further technological advances many of the highlighted issues that stem from technical or usability issues with e-reader devices are likely to be mitigated with better note-taking functionalities and the sharing and reusability of digital data in ways that far outweigh the affordances of paper-based study.

The paper has also demonstrated how new stakeholders, such as e-publishers and e-reader manufacturers, have been brought together under the innovative educational aims of this project and highlight the changing role of traditional publishers, teachers and librarians. Here though we identify three ongoing challenges:

  1. Internal challenges: the importance of translating into ePub format. One of the outcomes of the study demonstrated the importance of building an internal ePublishing model that is based on the output of eContent into device readable formats that allow for good navigation and manipulation. Hence it is important to work with internal publishing teams and ensure that the necessary skills and competences in this area are built. For this study it was critical to ensure that internal publishing mechanisms that had traditionally worked towards paper as final copy switched their model of production to a digital one.
  2. External challenges: include overcoming cultural resistance, technical and providing a fully connected study environment for students.
  3. DRM: the debate on open resources versus those that are protected by Digital Rights Management. Within a global context copyright and IP are argued as important in sustaining academic quality. How can these be protected in the e-Publishing arena via models for devolved delivery of eTexts and eContent?

Looking ahead, the future of e-readers, ePublishing and eContent is exciting. The growth of analytics is a powerful area and gathering data and awarding badges [18] for informal activity is growing. As you read your e-book then your e-reader is reading you. In the past publishers had no way of knowing what happens when a person reads a book or why they stop or when. Major players in eBook publishing are tracking reader's usage to study customers/students reading behaviours. Publishers are already considering how this will help them to shape future books, primarily for the leisure industry, but for the savvy educationalists then if we can pin point where readers become less engaged with the text we might consider inserting a video, multimedia feature or interactive activity. This would of course require some investigation before assuming the reasons for disengagement but the potential is there to assist with the process. Using data analytics to monitor predict and drive learning is set to become game changer in education (Harmelan, 2012). These are the elements that are being brought together in the future thinking delivery and consumption of legal materials on the Undergraduate Law Programme (see Figure 5 below) and feed into the ways that the institution can manage to scale course offerings that are built on a digital rather than paper-based publishing and consumption platform.

Figure 5: The projected model for future growth and further integration of key stakeholders that include: publishers, publishing platform, e-reader technologies and the context of the educational setting with the key driver of servicing the 'flexible, mobile and connected student'.

This is an extended version of the project model shown in Figure 1 above. This model highlights the key areas that have been identified during the project and need to be addressed to ensure a successful scaling of the use of eReaders and digital content. At the interfaces between the key actors we see the need for pre-loaded devices that extend the active learning potential of the material with rich media activities that are built on the latest publishing specifications (html5 and CSS3) for eTexts. Where appropriate, digital content copyright needs to be managed effectively through DRM (Digital Rights Management) tools and the process of content production and editing for educational institutions can be driven through a repository that can act as an eBook store for the institution, potentially linked to existing library services.

In conclusion we predict a convergence in forms of technology for consuming media and the parallel convergence of digital books as they approach the dynamism of webpages with linear and branching approaches to rich media. As educationalists we must ensure we embrace the tools and processes that will enable us to take advantage of these opportunities to enhance the quality and reach of our legal teaching and learning.


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[1] Patricia McKellar is Senior Lecturer Learning and Teaching Laws at the University of London.

[2] Steven Warburton is Professor of Technology Enhanced Learning at the University of Surrey.

[3] ePub is a standard eBook format based on xhtml and ebooks produced in this format are compatible with a wide range of devices. In this pilot all electronic texts used version 2 of the ePub standard.











[16] Digital Rights Management