Monday, January 20, 2014

The E Text Question

As most semesters approach, I get several emailed questions asking (politely) if I'm okay with students using e texts in my classes.  This is especially common with Shakespeare.

I hate them using etexts for Shakespeare.

First, they want to use the totally free etexts, which seem based on 19th century editions (they're free because they're long out of copyright).  But they don't really get any information about the 19th century editions, which often come with no glossing, no line numbers, and editing choices that made sense in the 19th century, but which are very different from the choices editors make now.

So there's always that delay of a few seconds while the etext folks try to figure out where we are based on asking someone to read them a line.  (Thus, everyone with regular texts looks, finds the line, and then the etext people start doing their search thing.  And we hope that the line is the same.)

Second, I think they should write in their Shakespeare texts so that when they study, they see the notes they've written, and it reminds them how to read those lines or that scene.   Within their lifetimes, that same Shakespeare text should be pretty good, so if they choose to keep it, they may glance at it again, and the marginalia they've put in will help them remember stuff.  (I know not all students keep the texts, but I know some do.  English majors tend to like books.)  That makes Shakespeare (and other lit, for example) very different from, say, Genetics textbooks.   But notetaking in e readers looks clumsy, and the likelihood is that they won't have easy access to that text/reader in ten years.   They won't, I don't think, pick up the play and reread it the way folks pick up books on their shelves.  (And worse, their future dates won't be able to tell what they read by a glance at their shelves from the couch.)


How do you folks feel about e texts? 

Do non-English fields, say Chemistry, or Econ, need students to bring the text to class meetings?  (I honestly don't remember taking my texts to most classes, though I was a pretty obedient student.)

21 comments:

  1. I think your arguments vs are compelling. And scholarly, so you are justified in saying yes, you do mind, giving the reasons here and then telling them if they can find an text that provides glossing, line numbers etc.. On purely teaching/learning grounds, you can argue that it is simply too disruptive to have students fumbling for the appropriate passages. IMHO.

    ReplyDelete
  2. The same. It slows up the class for all the reasons you mention.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have a few students this semester who are trying to do Paradise Lost off e-texts, but I've mostly shuffled them away from the sorts of things you get on Kindle to the Dartmouth reading room, which includes notes and line numbers. If they're doing the electronic text, I also require them to keep a commonplace book with their notes--some sort of written record of quotations, notes, questions, etc. (I keep track of the requirement by requiring students to post excerpts of their commonplace books on our class blog; some students might be just doing the posts on the blog, but that's close enough for my purposes.)

    In any case, for Shakespeare you might consider pointing your students to the Folger Digital Texts versions if they really want an etext. The FDTs have searchable digital versions, if internet connectivity isn't a problem, and then there's a downloadable PDF version of most of the texts. They don't have notes, but they do at least have line numbers.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Anonymous7:11 AM

    My husband deals with this teaching Plato and the like. He doesn't allow etexts for the reasons you describe here. I'm inclined to agree.

    Anastasia

    ReplyDelete
  5. I teach Chemistry and we do not expect students to bring the book to class. If they needed all their books with them on a daily basis their backpacks would be ridiculously heavy, science books are huge and heavy these days.

    Even for sciences I am not a big believer in e-textbooks. Students don't really read digital books the same way they do paper books and they don't retain information as well. I think there is real value at being able to visualize where on the page you read something or what image/figure was used to illustrate a concept and neither of these happen as well with an e-text. I do let students chose the option but I wouldn't encourage them.

    ReplyDelete
  6. In my econ classes whether or not they need to bring the text depends on many factors. In the math and computer classes sometimes they will do exercises from the texts. In the seminars they don't have texts, but they have articles or case studies that they need to bring in for discussion purposes. Sometimes they bring in the pdf on their laptop, and I'm usually fine with that, though I don't like them to have their laptops open and on unless they're really being used for class purposes.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Mine are actually pretty cooperative about buying the book (although there is always that ONE kid in every class ...) Actually, I'm impressed that so many of them listen to me when I say they should have a recent, edited text with notes, since I probably undermine myself by teaching with one of the free e-texts pulled up on the overhead.

    ReplyDelete
  8. FGS became a 1:1 iPad school this year, and part of this plan is that we are not allowed to tell students that they must have paper books rather than ebooks. Grrr. But many of the students who bought the ebook are themselves deciding that it's not worth the hassle and are buying the physical books in addition. So I'm hoping that next year, the allure of ebooks will have faded a bit, and more of the students will buy the paperbacks for their English classes.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Well, I'll be a dissenting voice. I love e-texts. And I find the note-taking features in most e-texts (I have Kindle and iBook) excellent.

    I don't know how many y'all have used, but the note-taking is set up so that you can underline and make notes, and then the systems let you search through your notes to find the ones you have made. The notes are also dated, so you know when you have made them. Also, since the notes are typed, there's no problem with figuring out (years later) just what you were trying to say with that smudgy little scrawl.

    And -- at least theoretically -- Kindle and iBooks will save this data for us forever. That is, as I switch to new devices, my books and their notes will come with me. Now how this plays out in practice, I admit, remains to be seen.

    Also, since my students have tons of books, if they're allowed to use e-books, they can carry everything in one slim handheld device. And Kindle texts are usually half the price (or less) of paper texts. For a lot of them, that's a big deal.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I don't allow students to use e-texts, and say so on the syllabus, giving several of the reasons you've given here. I don't feel the least bit bad about it, since most of what I teach is so readily available at any library or in used $1.99 copies. (For Shakespeare, I order the Norton but tell students they can use any version as long as it's in the original and has substantial notes.)

    If a student forgets his or her text, I'll let them call something up on their phone or tablet so they can follow along during discussion, but that's a once- or twice-per-semester kind of thing, not something they should make a habit of.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Also, per Delagar:

    Most of my students are not talking about buying an e-book, as it doesn't sound like Bardiac's are. They're talking about downloading whatever weird edition is available for free--or for $0.99. That's very different. (Especially in the case of a text like Paradise Lost, where I go to great lengths to order a course text with the best notes and apparatus for my students.)

    If the exact edition that I want for a class is available as an e-book, I'll let advanced students order that instead of a paper copy (this has happened maybe twice, with a senior capstone & an MA seminar--and none of my students took me up on the offer), because I feel they're more likely to already have the study, reading, and annotating habits to use it effectively. Lower-level students are still working on those things.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Another advantage to Shakespeare is that students can usually borrow library books (from the University library or from a local one), and usually pretty decent editions. So that can help save money, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't like E-text either, but I have given up. For some reason, there is a lot of Latin American fiction that is available on Kindle for regular price (~$10), but it is very hard (and expensive) to find a print copy in the United States. So Kindle it is.

      Delete
  13. I don't allow e-whatever in my smaller classes. In humanitues, I can't control it because of the sheer number of students in those lectures. That said, I recommend that they but the paper book because I will give them page numbers of quotes that I read aloud to them in class -- they will be on the test. If they don't have the right version, they will have a severe disadvantage on the test. This isn't my attempt to punish them. It's just the most efficient way to handle the quotes in such a large class. I don't have time to type them all out.

    ReplyDelete
  14. And as I'm dissing handheld devices, my iPhone turns "buy" into "but." Well played, iPhone. Well played.

    ReplyDelete
  15. We provide a copy electronic or hard of the reading to our TAs who then give it to the class representative who makes it available. With only two exceptions all of my material is in electronic format. For history, especially, of areas outside of Africa it is very had to find hard copies of books here for sale.

    ReplyDelete
  16. The $9.99 iPad Shakespeare app has reasonably good editions, line numbers, notes, and reproductions of the first folio. It might be worth investigating so that you can say, if you want to use an ebook, use this edition. Because the free kindle version is terrible, but this is pretty good. And, as my Shakespeare colleague told me, you can then read Shakespeare on your phone when waiting on line at the grocery store: far more elevating (though less titillating) than the weekly world, or Star, or whatever. And the e- edition makes word searches really easy. (I assume the iPad app has an android alternative.)

    ReplyDelete
  17. I require a good edited version with notes for Shakespeare--the Folger, which is our standard order, or better. Novels in English without notes, whatever device you want is fine. Translations, you must have the same translation as the rest of the class or you will suffer. About 5% of students don't listen to me, and they do suffer--in comprehension and on reading quizzes.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I figure that rationales that are about the course work--having the text quickly available in class, having the annotations, notes, whatever other materials are in the editions you like--are better than the future use rationales (although saying "if you think you might take more Shakespeare then use the paper text" makes sense.) I do a lot of reserve materials, which have now become e-reserves, and I do hate the way that makes texts less available during class time (no matter how much I say, "bring a copy.")

    ReplyDelete
  19. Just catching up with Historiann, who blogged about this recently: http://www.historiann.com/2014/01/30/i-think-im-a-little-bit-in-love/

    ReplyDelete
  20. Anonymous7:37 AM

    I was an English major as an undergraduate, although I teach something else now, and the rationale that line numbers are very important makes a lot of sense to me. I'm also a big believer in paper and find students do better with a physical text. But I don't write in books, even under the pain of death (er, not that I've been tested). That argument wouldn't have held a lot of sway with me.

    ReplyDelete