The usefulness of an e-reader as a portable reader and connected device Print E-mail
By Wilma Kurvink   

 

Strand one

A total of 21 students aged between 11 and 17 years were involved in the trial; consisting of nine students at year five, five students at year eight and seven students at year ten level. Volunteers were sought at each year level, and to qualify for the trial, students needed to be experienced and committed readers. Significantly, girls were more reluctant than boys, with only five girls and 16 boys participating.
 
A total of ten adults also participated in the trial, seven of whom were in executive or leadership roles, one teacher, and two librarians. Four participants were women and six were men. Men showed more interest in trial participation than women, but women were not as reluctant to participate as the girls.
 
Importantly, all participants were invited to make requests for titles they were interested in reading, be they newly published or old favourites. It was important that readers found a match in the ereader content with what they read in hard copy, so as to keep consistency with a hard copy comparison, and so that the potential enthusiasm of reading one’s preferred author or title was not compromised.
 
All participants were given a basic tutorial on the ereader device, either the Iliad or the Cybook ereader. Additional leaflets were provided on use and care of the reader. All participants were asked to provide a list of titles they wished to read, including newly-published materials.
 
Participants took the devices with them to use at home or work for at least two weeks, to read materials and to explore the reading experience. Upon returning the device, participants were surveyed and interviewed. Interviews were recorded for later checking against the survey data.  

Findings

All respondents were positive in their responses to the ereader and the ability to access hardcopy materials in etext format. However the greatest finding of the trial was that the adult readers were far more satisfied than younger readers with the ereader/etext combination.
 

. . . the greatest finding of the trial was that the adult readers were far more satisfied than younger readers with the ereader/etext combination.

This was apparent in the overall responses, where the general acceptance of the reader varies considerably. This data correlates strongly with the behavioural data which shows that older readers spent on average 30-40% longer reading on the readers, and where younger and older readers showed a significant difference on preparedness to continue reading with the ereader.
 
The students showed a 30-40% less satisfaction overall, with their responses indicating acceptance of but not enthusiasm for the new format. Adults, on the other hand, uniformly embraced the reader and the access to the etexts.
 
The graph rates satisfaction from 1 to 6: 6 rated as excellent, 5 rated as very good, 4 as good, 3 as acceptable, 2 as poor and 1 as very poor.
 
The survey asked respondents to rate the ereader device for look and feel, navigation, the experience, functionality (practical use) and portability. (Fig 1, 2)
 
 
 
Fig1
 
 
Fig 2
 
There was a marked difference between the responses of adults and students, with students demonstrating considerably less satisfaction with functionality and experience, and look and feel, to those of adults. Both groups responded in positive ways to the portability factor. When results are combined, a more distinct pattern emerges. Both groups respond with high levels of acceptance of the device, rating it from good to excellent. Students’ results are, however, show less acceptance than those of the older participants, with an average of 30% of respondents reporting a satisfaction level of acceptable to very poor (Fig 3, 4).
 
Fig 3

 

Fig 4
 
The question on etext experience was important as it encouraged respondents to see the etext as something which was not part and parcel of the device, and that the device could be pre-loaded, or acquire further content. The question was designed to tease out how respondents experienced reading of the etext, so they could rate it without being influence by minor issues relating to the device. The questions inquired into the respondents' overall response, navigation of the etext format, the experience of reading the etext, how it compared with hard copy and how much they valued the convenience of access to many texts.
 
Responses to the etext showed even greater differences between student and adults. Similarly to the responses to the ereader, students were markedly less enthusiastic regarding the qualities of the etext in the reader. Adults rated the appearance and experience of the etext – with its 'paper-like' quality, and the ability to increase text size significantly – more than the students, and were more satisfied with the etext as an alternative to hard copy and with the convenience of potential access to many titles. (Fig 5, 6)
 
Fig 5
 

Fig 6
 
When the satisfaction is totalled for students and for adults the pattern becomes more obvious as adults rate the etext more highly than the students do. (Fig 7, 8)
 
Fig 7
 
Fig 8
 
A more interesting pattern emerges when the satisfaction rating is compared with the time that students and adults spent reading on the device. Over 38% of students read for more than eight hours, but the majority, 61%, read for less than eight hours and one third of all students read for less than four hours. This contrasts significantly with the adults, of whom one third (33%) reported reading for over ten hours, the majority reading over 8 hours (70%), while no adults reported reading for less than six hours. (Fig 9, 10)
 
Fig 9
 

Fig 10
 
Results relating to whether the respondents would continue to use the ereader revealed the most significant difference in the entire survey, with 90% of adults responding positively to the idea of continuing with the ereader. This contrasted with just over half the students being prepared to continue (52.7%), and a significant number (47.3%) being unsure or unwilling to continue (Fig 11, 12).
 
Fig11
 
Fig 12
 
The interviews conducted with all participants generated more data on these initial patterns. The adult respondents generally spent longer in the interview, and were keen to share their experiences and thoughts on the ereader. The students were less explicit, but none the less quite certain of their opinions on the experience.
 
Some patterns that were discerned were:
  • Larger range of satisfaction or dissatisfaction – there was a greater range of experiences by students, all of whom were committed readers.
  • Curiosity 'wow' factor did not last long. Students were more easily bored with the notion of the ereader, and this can be verified by the large number of students who would not be interested in continuing with one. Students at the grade five trial also were not interested in loading a second title after reading the first and declined the offer. The reasons they gave was that it took too long and was not worth the effort.
  • Students were more inclined to experiment with the device, and some succeeded in loading text books onto it.
  • Older students saw benefits in text books on readers. The year 10 students volunteered that text books on an ereader device would be desirable and useful, reducing the weight of the school bag. Two year 10 students requested that a copy of their Shakespeare play be loaded on their reader.
  • Girls were less accepting than boys of the ereader and the etext. More boys volunteered to be involved in the trial than girls. Girls also responded by spending less time on the ereader than boys.
  • The students were less tolerant of flaws in the technology – they saw the loading process as inconvenient and time-consuming. A number of students complained of the slowness of the etext in page turning and expected the e-ink technology to behave like LCD screens. Students reported timing the page turn ahead of completing the page so that there was minimum waiting time between pages.
  • Students reported that the device generally lacked appeal. Most students saw it as clunky and office-like, lacking design quality and they did not find the navigation and menu functions intuitive.
Although there are not equal numbers of staff to students, the staff survey responses showed surprising consistency, even though the interview results revealed very individual stories and perceptions: 
  • Adults were more inclined to share concerns, experiences and motivations for reading. Several respondents told of the responses of their family to the ereader, and wanted the interviewer to know how their children responded.
  • Adults spoke of themselves as experienced readers, and some related the many years of reading as evidence of this. One of the adult respondents believed that that he was reading differently at this stage of his life, and was pursuing interests and passions through his reading. His use of books was systematic, carefully bookmarking them by colour and was keen to use this facility in an ereader. He brought his books into the interview to demonstrate.
  • The owning of books was experienced variously, with some adults seeing the ereader as a way of saving space at home by converting to etexts to still keep up with new materials. Others felt that book collections were cultural reflections upon the owners’ education, culture and interests. They did not believe an ereader would replace the presence of books in this way, nor could books be shared if they were on an ereader in the current modality. The element of sharing and having cultural associations with books was felt to be important by several adult respondents.
  • Three participants spoke of reluctance to trial the device, and the reasons given related to their pleasure in the physical properties of the book – the surfaces and pages, the smell of the paper and bindings, and the holding of the book:
    • One participant felt that the ereader represented a form of ‘betrayal’ of the hard copy book, which she needed to overcome. Having been a reader for many years, the change was difficult to adopt in her view. This participant took the ereader on public transport where she habitually read on her way to and from work. She reported becoming immersed in the ereader to such an extent that she literally tried to ‘turn the page’.
    • Another participant could not bring himself to read in the ereader and disqualified himself from the trial. He passed the ereader on to his wife who reported enjoying the reading, although the titles on it were not her personal choice. 
  • One reader spoke of books being souvenirs, keepsakes of good reading experiences, and said an ereader would not prevent him from buying hardcopy books. He was likely to use an ereader in addition to his hard copy.
  • In contrast to the younger readers, adult respondents were more tolerant of flaws in the technology, and endured the restrictions as long as their personal aims could be met. It would appear that adults saw a ‘pay-off’ in terms of some personal priorities. This can be illustrated in the following examples:
    • One participant required a professional reading list to be loaded in the ereader. He took five book titles with him on his reader on an educational tour in Europe, and was prepared to even substitute some titles that were unavailable with others, as reading without lugging the weight of books was a high priority.
    • This respondent was keen to support the trial itself as he believed strongly that more efforts needed to be made for sustainability. He was concerned to avoid text book redundancy to improving health and safety for students who carry text books as well as laptop computers in their school bags. In this case the respondent became an advocate for the trial, as well as a participant in the research.
    • Another participant who generally regarded himself as a reluctant user of technology, volunteered for the trial as he wanted to access a title that was out of print, and not in the library collection; The Complete Works of Maupassant. Although he was shown how to use the ereader by the staff member liaising with him, he sought more assistance at home from one of his children to fully master the use of the ereader and to read the work.