Pedagogical and technological considerations in the design and development of open e-textbooks

Eva Y M Tsang, K S Yuen, K C Li and Simon K S Cheung
The Open University of Hong Kong
Hong Kong SAR, China

Print materials are portable, have permanence and are inexpensive to produce. They are still an important medium in teaching and learning when they appear as textbooks. However, contemporary theories argue that textbooks only ‘transmit’ knowledge to readers in a linear fashion. Also, readers often do not actively interact with a textbook and, without such a process, meaningful learning will not occur. With the shift in the paradigm of teaching and learning from a teacher-centred to a student-centred approach, textbooks are now used only as a type of learning resource; and teachers design teaching and learning activities which help students to construct their learning via such learning resources.

Due to the rapid development of ICTs and new media in education, digital contents have become important supplementary materials in teaching and learning (Hill 2010). In line with the wide range of resources being made available via the Internet, many textbooks are being converted into e-textbooks. The emergence of innovative computer devices — especially mobile devices such as tablet PCs and e-book readers — enables easy and ubiquitous access to e-resources, and makes learning more individualized, interactive, communicative and connective. Students are seen to be moving from printed textbooks to e-resources and e-textbooks (Fredrick 2011; Nicholas and Lewis 2010).

Contemporary e-textbooks can support individualization in the learning process (Sun, Flores and Tanguma 2012). Important design elements of effective e-textbooks include: language usage, conceptual organization, spatial arrangement and levels of interaction which facilitate teaching and learning. An example is used to illustrate the inclusion of these design elements.

One crucial feature which teachers desire in an e-textbook is the opportunity for users to select only appropriate parts of a book and supplement it with other learning resources, some of which may be their own work. Due to the very restrictive copyright and technological constraints, this is often not easily achievable (Ovadia 2011; Polanka 2010). Only open e-textbooks, which allow teachers to reuse, revise and remix the content, are able to satisfy such teacher needs. For such developments, there are associated pedagogical, quality assurance and technological considerations. This paper includes some examples of open e-textbooks to illustrate how these aspects are addressed.