Advantages of eReading

By Timothly Lincoln, Director of Stitt Library

For decades, visiting the campus bookstore has been on the to-do list of students each term. The reason is straightforward: the bookstore stocks the books that professors want their students to read. Of course, the process of reading involves not only processing sentences in one’s mind but highlighting or underlining key passages, writing question marks or notes in the margins, and all manner of individually created systems for wrestling with the meanings discovered in a book.

As Austin Seminary professors frequently point out, good theological reading is a conversation. What happens to that conversation when books lose their physical pages (and that distinctive book-scent) and become e-books? Specifically, what happens when a student is reading an e-book not just for fun at the beach but as part of serious academic reading? To find out, associate library director Kristy Sorensen and I are conducting a pilot study with students in a master’s-level Christian education course this term.

With the agreement of Professor David White, students in the course are reading significant chunks of assigned readings on a Nook Simple Touch e-reader or another e-reader. We are giving students a Nook to keep as a thank you for taking part in the study. (We chose the Nook because, at the price we were willing to pay, the Nook did not display advertising.) At this point in our study, students are getting used to their new devices. Already, though, students have begun to reflect on the differences and similarities between reading printed books and reading e-books.

E-books are different, students report, in several respects. Sometimes it is difficult to get a sense of “where I am” in the book, because a single screen is displayed at a time. That screen of text may not match a page in a printed book. There is a learning curve involved in getting an e-reader to connect to one’s computer or wireless network. Highlighting and making notes requires the right level of finger pressure on the screen and the use of an onscreen keyboard. At the same time, students have reported positively that they can find their way around an e-book. Some of them like that their notes and highlighted passages are searchable. Several students reported that they appreciate the portability of the e-reader, which allows multiple textbooks and versions of the Bible to be loaded on a single device.

“My back really likes it!” one student said. Elsewhere on campus, several professors regularly use e-readers or tablet computers. Professor Lewis Donelson reports reading the New Testament in Greek on his Kindle e-reader. Alumna Dana Mayfield introduced Professor Whit Bodman to the practice of using a tablet computer when preaching. He says he likes to be able to edit his sermon manuscript right up until he steps into the pulpit. Dean Allan Cole uses his Kindle when preaching and lecturing because he appreciates the ability of the device to store a lot of data in one place. E-readers and e-books are harbingers of a larger change in our society’s understanding of education and what it means to be connected with others.

In 2012, the Seminary created the position of learning technologies librarian to assist faculty in teaching courses online and in person. Our students carry on serious conversations about faith and class work on Facebook as well as in Stotts Dining Hall. They will carry these sensibilities for virtual community with them as they lead congregations. It is a privilege to hear students explain what new skills and resources they need to thrive in seminary today and in ministry after graduation; increasingly it will involve e-reading.