Friday, September 28, 2012

Ebook Reader Review

This year I made an attempt at using ebooks for class preparation.  Last year I enjoyed reading journal articles and PDFs with goodreader and I was hoping to replicate the experience with entire books. Several of my textbooks were available as ebooks from the publisher, and I certainly liked the idea of not carrying heavy textbooks around anymore.  Unfortunately, so far the results of this experiment have been negative.  While I appreciate the ability have copies of my books anywhere I go, I would certainly not switch over to an e-book only system anytime soon.

There are 2 apps I have used to read ebooks, bluefire and bookshelf.  What I wanted out of my these apps was threefold: 1) ability to bookmark pages for quick access during class 2) ability to annotate (both notes and highlighted excerpts) and 3) ability to export annotations (again, both notes and highlighted excerpts).  Unfortunately, unlike the goodreader, all three of the ebook reader have fallen short on these criteria.  The complete inability to meet the third criteria in particular  is a crucial defect since I want to be able to print out annotations so that they are at the ready when I'm discussing passages in class.

The bluefire app is the native app for many ebooks downloaded through Waztek.  The downloading process is very easy. The particular book I was using for class was available from ebrary (one of two ebook providers that the library uses).  All I had to do was surf the library catalog like usual on the ipad's web browser, click the ebook link, plug in my lewis and clark authentication, and download.  Unfortunately, you are only able to check out ebooks for a 7 day period but since it is pretty easy to download I didn't mind checking out the book multiple times.  The biggest problem, however, was with bluefire's text-capturing tool.  Whenever I tried to capture text the resulting passage would appear without any spacemarks!  This was true whether I copied and pasted the text or used their highlighting tool to "bookmark" a passage.  This is obviously a huge deficiency.   I also didn't like how it was difficult to follow footnotes.  You had to flip through to the end of the chapter page by page in order to read them-- it would be much better to just be able to click on them directly and be taken automatically to the footnote.

Bookshelf is the app used by my primary textbook publisher, CQ Press.  This was a pretty negative experience overall.  There was no functionality to bookmark excerpts for easy retrieval.  Furthermore, the highlighting tool was infuriating for its lack of precision.  Any time I would try to capture text, it would be unresponsive to my gestures and would generally not work.  I pretty quickly gave up using this ebook for my own class preparation and would definitely not recommend it for students (despite the fact that it is significantly cheaper than the hard copy version).

Overall I don't think the ebook reader apps have developed to the point where they are very useful right now for teaching.  I know that ibooks (the native ebook app) does not have many of the problems addressed above, but I also know that you cannot export your annotations, which I think is really key.  Hopefully this technology will develop more in the future.

UPDATE:  I did find a way to export my annotations in bluefire... though unfortunately there were still not space marks!


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  2. Hi Ellen, I agree with your assessment of these tools. Bluefire I've found particularly irritating on about every level imaginable; it just seems like an unfinished app to me. In my view, readers are not at the point where they are useful for very much at all beyond simply reading, and I would never rely on their tools for taking notes and annotations.

    As an aside, I am on the Orbis-Cascade (Summit) ebook team, and we have been troubleshooting many of these same issues with all 37 schools. Although we have no direct contact with the app developers, we are communicating these deficiencies to the major academic publishers as we move forward. I agree with you that it is all very much in flux. But it doesn't bode well for continued engagement with the e-format unless these issues are addressed in a concerted way.


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