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I am wondering if anyone knows of any studies that indicate whether students read online texts more or less than hard copy texts.

I am in the midst of trying to "reboot" the intro stats class I teach and a big question in my mind is how effective the text is. Active learning (like the flipped classroom) requires the students read the material beforehand, and I'm not convinced (from the results I saw this year using a Pearson Learning Management System (LMS)) that the students are reading the online text very much.

I have a suspicion that students read the online texts less (and I plan to give my students a survey to check) but I'd like to know if there is any research supporting my limited observations.

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    From personal opinion and discussion with peers, the consensus seems to be that hard copy texts are preferred, but online texts are less expensive.
    – user67199
    Apr 6, 2018 at 19:07
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    Studies have shown that students don't read hard copy textbooks either- unless you make it necessary for the students to read the text to get points on quizzes or something similar. Apr 6, 2018 at 19:44
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    @BrianBorchers: Could you reference these studies?
    – user90948
    Apr 6, 2018 at 20:16
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    My Intro to Quantum Mechanics professor combated this problem by not giving us a practice exam or telling us anything about the exams. He said that he wanted us to know the material well enough that we would know the important topics in the class, which meant getting to know the textbook inside and out. While I hated it at the time, it actually forced me to learn the material so I could pass the class, instead of the "memorize the practice exam" method.
    – NoVa
    Apr 6, 2018 at 23:13
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    Sorry..."LMS" just stands for "learning management system". The term itself refers to a self contained learning environment (i.e. it provides the text, problems for online assignments, and also grades them). Many large companies with traditional roots in education (Pearson, MacMillan, Cengage) have branched out in this direction and provide such platforms that sync to course management systems like BlackBoard, Canvas, Sakai, etc. Apr 7, 2018 at 12:42

3 Answers 3

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This recent literature review goes over some of the research on print versus screen reading.

It looks like in real-world situations there are no significant differences in grades between e-textbooks and print textbooks even though some laboratory studies show that content reading works better from print and that some students tend to prefer print.

In contrast, course reserve books are more likely to be accessed if they're e-books rather than print books.

Practically, it may be worthwhile to give students a "tour" of the ebook to make sure they know how to use it, and/or to design quizzes or activities that require students to know/use the textbook material.

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    +1 for a great answer. Just a note: SE prefers links to be “hidden” or placed as footnotes using Markdown link text, since it makes the answers easier to read.
    – aeismail
    Apr 7, 2018 at 20:19
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I will say personally that using both platform is far the best. Online text reading can be a little bit tedious especially when it is in large PDF volume for example and sometimes calculations may not be properly formulated especially for student new in statistics. From my experience having to take bio-statistics, i still had to refer to my hard text book especially to see exactly how the answers were got from start to finish of the problem. On finding a report to support you. i came across the site below, check it out and see if the data can support your report.

http://hechingerreport.org/textbook-dilemma-digital-paper/

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I agree that if it is possible, give students option to use either modality, but as a blind student, I would love online materials. We need to think about accessibility of our materials for everyone.

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