Virtual Reality – Fad or Fabulous?

flickr photo shared by Steve Koukoulas under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

Who didn’t spend hours as a child, gazing through their View-Master, clicking around the film cartridges which revealed 3d images of nature, super heroes and classic stories? The View-Master allowed us to escape into an imaginative world in a different way to books or television; by holding it up to our eyes, the whole world disappeared as our field of vision was completely taken up by these tiny slides.

The world has changed dramatically since my childhood, and technology now allows for an immersive experience light years beyond the simple View-Master of the past. Technology such as the Oculus Rift and the Samsung Gear VR are bringing Virtual Reality out of science fiction, and thanks to the incredibly cheap Google Cardboard Virtual Reality viewer, into the hands of everyday people. In some areas, virtual reality is seen as the natural next step to how we interact with media content, from gaming to movies and more.

I have written before on this blog about Augmented Reality, and explained the difference between Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR). Augmented Reality has lots of potential for education, and free apps such as Aurasma and Daqri have enabled teachers to experiment with different ways to enhance learning using it.  However until the introduction of the Google Cardboard viewer, the chance to explore the potentials of VR in education has been extremely limited.

Before jumping into a discussion about whether VR is fad or actually fabulous for education, let’s investigate exactly what it is, and what the technology and tools entail. This video, gives a fantastic, simple explanation for those new to the idea of Virtual Reality. Click the image below to access it on the Time website.

how does vr work

Put simply, VR is the experience of a computer generated simulation or 3D image, made possible by the use of technology such as a helmet or viewer. The ability to ‘trick’ the mind into thinking that the individual is actually ‘there’ within the environment which is in fact ‘virtual’ is the amazing and fascinating aspect of VR, which removes it from other experiences of media. When viewing a VR App which features a rollercoaster ride, users may feel the same feelings of dizziness and displacement that they would when actually riding the real thing.

Of course, the more advanced the VR system, the more fully immersed within the environment the user becomes. Simple apps combined with a Google Cardboard Viewer provide enough immersion to make one feel a little ill, but the lack of audio stimulus and real interactivity limits just how ‘real’ the experience feels. This is a good thing for younger students – being able to pull the viewer away at any moment of discomfort is important. For older or more experienced users of VR, they may wish to trial technologies that provide a much fuller immersion; where sensory stimulation including the sense of touch (e.g. wind blowing through your hair as you fly) and audio (the rushing sound as you soar) as well as the ability to interact with the environment actually makes the computer disappear, as the brain becomes fully engaged with the virtual world. For a deeper explanation about how VR works, a great article that is easy to read is How Virtual Reality Works by

While it seems obvious that gaming will be where a large proportion of development will happen in the VR world, the ability to experience ‘being there’ from the safety of a classroom has obvious appeal for the educator. Having the ability to walk through historical sites, to experience times in history such as World War One or to investigate Outer Space are just some of the most immediate examples of how virtual reality might play a part in learning. The Google Expeditions Pioneer Program and Immersive VR Education sites are currently offering this experience to students – and one can only assume others will follow. For many schools, excursions, school trips and even hands on activities may be limited due to funding or safety concerns; using virtual reality, while not a complete replacement, may allow those students to experience what they would otherwise have never been able.

Research has shown that game-based learning environments, virtual worlds and simulations all result in varying levels of positive learning outcomes (Merchant, Goetz, Cifuentes, Keeney-Kennicutt, & Davis, 2014). However, this meta-analysis admits that the research available is limited in different ways. There is also not a great deal of literature available discussing the effectiveness of virtual reality based learning in the context of retention and being able to transfer the learning from the virtual to the real environment (Bossard, Kermarrec, Buche, & Tisseau, 2008). This is not surprising, given the cost of providing virtual reality experiences to this point. With the introduction of Google Cardboard, all of this is about to change.

These apps are all available on the Google Play store. There are also apps available for iPhones through iTunes.

These apps are all available on the Google Play store. There are also apps available for iPhones through iTunes.

Google Cardboard is a low tech, cardboard viewer, that holds users’ to smartphone, so that the screen of the device is viewed through the lenses. There are a growing number of free and paid apps that are being made available to be viewed through the viewer, ranging from the aforementioned rollercoaster (not for those who experience motion sickness!!), an African safari, several space adventures,and the original Google Cardboard app, which features different experiences including a simple animated story, a tour of Versailles, a 3D artefact that can be examined from all angles and the opportunity to fly over the Earth.

war of wordsOne of the apps that shows the way VR might potentially link to literature is the beautiful War of Words, which features a reading of Siegfried Sassoon’s  poem ‘The Kiss’. This app demonstrates a way VR might be used to engage students in poetry through the immersion in an atmospheric experience that conveys a tone that a simple reading may not provide. Enabling students to almost physically enter the world of the text opens up immense possibilities. A hybrid sitting between the book and the movie, books could include points during the story where the reader is encouraged to put down the physical book and pick up the virtual visor, to experience an adventure along with the characters. Combining the two technologies (book and VR) would enrich the experience, while providing new ways to encourage beginning readers to interpret the text.

Although this article in Mashable focuses less on reading and more on the storytelling experience, those who work with disengaged readers can easily make the links between experiencing storytelling of the calibre described here, and the desire to the engage with text that further extends the story.

cardboardTo support the exploration of Virtual Reality, ResourceLink has purchased a set of six I Am Cardboard Viewers, and will be offering them for loan along with our other Makerspace kits. Teachers will need to provide the phones loaded with appropriate apps, however with most students today owning their own mobile, this might just require some pre-planning. Primary schools wishing to explore might choose to host an afternoon where parents are invited to join in with the learning, bringing their mobile phone with them! Some apps work on iPod Touches, however phones provide the best experience, as generally they are more powerful.

In the kit, I have included two documents to assist users; one outlining tips for using a Cardboard viewer in the classroom, and one suggesting apps to get users started.

Virtual Reality is still in the early stages of adoption, particularly in education. Limitations in budgets, bandwidth and accessibility mean that it may take some time before VR is a commonplace part of learning – an observation supported by Pano Anthos, Founder and CEO, GatherEducation who states:

True virtual reality and augmented reality technologies will be slower to go mainstream, since the effort to put on glasses of any type means costs and changes in user behavior. When such technologies become seamless and unobtrusive accessories, they will move toward mainstream.
(drawn from the article Future Thoughts by Jonathan Blake Huer)

Despite this, teachers, librarians and administrators involved in education are challenged to play with and investigate new technologies. Becoming informed about,and exploring ‘horizon’ technologies such as VR, and observing developing trends in pedagogy helps educators respond more effectively in a changing learning environment, and with students who demand a changing lvr flipboardearning experience.

Intrigued and want to know more?

I have created a Pinterest Board which has a range of links to apps, articles and research, and if you wish to keep up to date, check out my Flipboard, to which I will be adding articles of interest. For Brisbane Catholic Education staff, the Google Cardboard kits will be available for loan through the Oliver catalogue; simply search the lists for Makerspaces, and you will find it, along with all of our other Makerspace kits and resources which you can book for use.


Bossard, C., Kermarrec, G., Buche, C., & Tisseau, J. (2008). Transfer of learning in virtual environments: a new challenge? Virtual Reality, 12, 151-161
Blake Huer, J. (2015, June 22). Future Thoughts. Retrieved 29 October 2015, from
Merchant, Z., Goetz, E. T., Cifuentes, L., Keeney-Kennicutt, W., & Davis, T. J. (2014). Effectiveness of virtual reality-based instruction on students’ learning outcomes in K-12 and higher education: A meta-analysis. Computers & Education, 70, 29–40.
Newspoll Market and Social Research. (2013). Like, post, share: Young Australians’ experience of social media. Prepared for Australian Communications and Media Authority. Retrieved from

Creative Commons Images in this post used with thanks to:
Oculus Rift – Developer Version – Front” by Sebastian StabingerOwn work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Samsung Gear VR” by Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Assembled Google Cardboard VR mount” by othreeGoogle Cardboard. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

SLANZA 2015: Lots to Learn from our NZ Neighbours!

By Kay Oddone

In September, I was honoured to take part in the School Library Association of New Zealand’s biennial conference, in Christchurch. Presenting a workshop and keynote, I was delighted to meet many of the amazing professionals who do a wonderful job managing school libraries across the North and South Islands, many of whom go above and beyond to ensure that NZ students have access to contemporary, effective and high quality information and resourcing services.

The three days passed in a blur of conversations, author breakfasts, conference dinners, keynotes and workshops, and reading back through the three Storify collections I created which collated the huge number of tweets shared (we trended in both New Zealand and Australia on several occasions!), I was compelled to write this blog post to share with others the rich learning that took place.

Below you can access the three storify articles, but for those short on time, and who would like to dip their toes into the learning, I have also created a Haiku Deck slideshow that attempts to capture just some of the themes of the conference. Click on the image below to view the slides.

The keynotes were fascinating in that almost every one raised the pressing issue of workforce change, and how technology, automation and globalisation are rapidly bearing down on us. For educators, we are on the precipice- skills previously valued will no longer be of use, and students live in a world which requires new ways of information management, cognitive load management, higher-level and different types of communication skills as well as the ability to learn quickly, manage constant change and think creatively. Research such as the articles pinned on my Futures Pinterest board all point to the need for a re-think in what students learn, and how they learn it; as jobs are automated, outsourced or radically re-imagined.

The storify collections below contain fascinating reading; take some time to be inspired, to discover and to make connections with the School Librarians of New Zealand; and share your thoughts in the comments below!

storify day 1

storify day 2

storify day 3

Fake it till you make it – Some easy ways to make great quality media for the not so creative person.

  • by Ben van Trier

It’s a phrase that we have all heard and it is also a phrase that we all have a stance on.

flickr photo shared by built4love.hain under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

Amy Cuddy shares a great TEDtalk  about body language and how ‘pretending’ to be one way might help us to become that way.

While the focus of this blog is not about body language and personal identity, it is about a few quick tips, tricks and tools to build engaging and dynamic media that will impress your audience.

It is important to note that if you are working within an educational context it is vital that you ensure the privacy of your subjects, particularly if you’re making media that includes identifiable images of others. Check with your leadership team or organisation for their policies and guidelines when it comes to photographing or filming within a school context.

When creating media, you also have a responsibility in relation the intellectual property of other creatives. The ResourceLink wiki created by Kay Oddone Copyright and Copyleft is an easy starting off point to learn about copyright and creative commons licencing.

Firstly great media isn’t about access to technology or possessing a high level of skill – it’s all about the story you are sharing! The Humans of New York story is a sensation that has captured the hearts and minds of many on the internet. It began as an artist small idea and grew to a worldwide phenomenon. The portraits are beautiful, nothing overly staged or digitally remastered, and why are they so engaging?
flickr photo shared by ForbesOste under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-ND ) license

You as an audience member read a story from the image. This is the most important question to consider when starting out building media, what is the story and why is it important to share.

Secondly, great media isn’t about access to technology or possessing a high level of skill – it is about following some simple rules. Photography Mad is a beautiful blog that has stacks of tips, tutorials and techniques. Whatever type of product you are making be it print, still photography or a film if you don’t capture your subject well the product will always look amateurish. Great composition will always mean that you have a quality end product.

flickr photo shared by blacktsuba under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

Thirdly:  great media isn’t about access to technology or possessing a high level of skill – it is about putting all the pieces together in a simple and engaging way. If you have access to professional editing software, great!

If you don’t, here are my current favourite apps and web tools for making great media:

1. Replay is a simple high quality app for iPhone or iPad, edit together video and still images to make high quality videos. It’s free to download but you do need to pay for removal of watermarks and some theme packs.
2. PicLab and PicLab HD are photo editing apps for Apple and Andriod devices (PicLab HD is only available for Apple users), once you’ve mastered this user friendly app you’ll be making high quality images in the palm of your hand. It’s free to download and you can upgrade to PicLab HD for other features.
3. Video Scribe is an online tool by Sparkol for making whiteboard style animations. Once you master the user friendly web tool you’ll be making high quality and dynamic animations. There is a cost to subscribe but with a few different pricing options you can find a plan that best fits your needs.
4. Canva is an online tool and iPad app for creating highly quality graphic designs. Make fliers, posters, photo collages and more easily and quickly.

Finally great media isn’t about access to technology or possessing a high level of skill- it is about sharing the story with your audience in a safe and responsible manner. As mentioned earlier, if you are working within an educational context, it is vital that you ensure the privacy of your subjects if you’re making media that includes identifiable images of others. Check with your leadership team or organisation for their policies and guidelines when it comes to photographing or filming within a school context.

With the ability to build media so fast and so easily, it is also vital to remember that you have a responsibility in relation the intellectual property of other creatives. Don’t forget to check out the ResourceLink wiki created by Kay Oddone Copyright and Copyleft is an easy starting off point to learn about copyright and creative commons licensing.

flickr photo shared by mrsdkrebs under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

So there you have it – a few simple tips that will help you ‘fake it till you make it‘ as a producer of high quality media! Making your own media is a bit like DIY home renovations – sometimes it’s best to bring in a qualified and experienced expert to ensure the products success.

Your Professional/Personal/Passionate Learning Network – Your PLN!

Struggling to stay afloat in a sea of information?

flickr photo shared by kleuske under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

If there is one thing that is true of education today, it is that change is the only constant. Staying abreast of educational change can seem like a full time job in itself, and sometimes it seems fair enough to think that it is just not possible to stay afloat amid the overwhelming amount of information that is presented to us every day.

You are not alone! We are living in an age of information abundance, and it is no longer reasonable to expect that any one person can hold the entirety of knowledge on any particular topic within their brain, nor keep up with the rate of change in knowledge and information. In fact, people like David Weinberger, author of books such as (the extremely long titled) Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts are not the Facts, Experts are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room is the Room and Everything is Miscellaneous go so far as to say that technology is reshaping the way we understand and experience knowledge, and that we must begin to teach network literacy, as it will be the connections that we have, and the ability to access information when we need it that will be a determinant of success in the future, rather than the ability to store knowledge in our own brains, which has previously been how we have assessed expertise.

As educators, we know more than anyone that in a rapidly changing world, a student who has learned how to learn, who is flexible and is able to transfer skills across contexts, and who knows how, when and of whom to ask the right questions are likely to be the most successful – in life, if not in standardised tests.

flickr photo shared by purplechalk under a Creative Commons ( BY-SA ) license

So in an  environment of infowhelm, who can we turn to to seek support, ask questions, share learnings and sometimes just have a laugh (or cry!)? Teachers have always been able to turn to each other for this support, however in a networked world, we are fortunate in that we can reach beyond the boundaries of our own school, and connect with others all over the country and the world.

These well-known diagrams by Alec Couros sum up the potential of making connections for the 21st century educator:

flickr photo shared by courosa under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

flickr photo shared by courosa under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC-SA ) license

A networked teacher, connecting to the many sources which Alec Couros has described above, has a very healthy PLN – a Personal, Professional, Passionate Learning Network  – a community of like-minded individuals who might never meet in person, but which challenge, push, share, teach and support each other.

flickr photo shared by mrsdkrebs under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

All of this talk about having a support network sounds nice…but educators are busy people, and you may feel you need more convincing that connecting and developing a PLN is worth the effort. Don’t just take my word for it! Here are some of the wonderful members of my PLN, sharing why they love having a network of teachers and thought-leaders at their fingertips…

why pln

So if you are convinced…or even if you want to give it a go…there are many tools that you can use.
One of the most popular is Twitter, and I have written before on the value of using this tool as a way of making connections with other educators (just click on the link above or on the image below to read the blog post about how to get connected using Twitter).

flickr photo by Rosaura Ochoa shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

flickr photo by Rosaura Ochoa shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Of course, Twitter is just one tool; you can build your PLN using Facebook, through subscribing to blogs, by contributing to communities on Google Plus or Diigo, or by connecting with and following curators on Scoopit, Pinterest or Pearltrees. You can choose one or all – the beautiful thing about PLNs is that they are PERSONAL! No one can tell you how best to grow your connections, or which tools will suit you best! You can spend as little or as much time as you like developing your networks, and the flexibility of online PLNs is that they are always accessible – either during working hours, or after hours, whether you are a night person or a morning person, a visual person or a verbal one – you learn the way that suits you best, where it best suits and when.

Hopefully this post has whetted your appetite for exploring the potential of developing your own PLN.

If so, these resources may get you on your way:


You can also check out my presentation, which I shared at the Edutech Conference in Brisbane in June 2015, (see below) or become part of my PLN – you can follow me on Twitter as KayC28.

PLN using social media

Celebrate Australia Day – It’s Great to be an Aussie!

With the news being filled with tragic and terrible stories of terrorism and violence, it is sometimes difficult to remember that living in Australia we are truly blessed. Why not take time on Australia Day this year to reflect on all of the positive aspects of being an Australian! Use any of the resource ideas below to share with students the ‘good news’ about our young and vibrant country.

What are the facts?

Did you know that for the 3rd year in a row, Australia has been ranked the happiest of 36 industrialised nations in this OECD survey? Click the image below for a fascinating infographic which compares the Australian way of life with others.australia_day

Ideas for students:

READ a great Australian book – choose from this list, or even better, have the students create their own list – compile it on Pinterest or GoodReads and share it with the world!


COOK a fantastic Aussie feast – we have all of the cuisines of the world to choose from, and we also have our own local delicacies – bring a plate to share, or pool your favourite Aussie recipes and create an enviable recipe book!


SING (or sing along!) to a playlist of great Aussie songs; choose traditional tunes or groove to the JJJ Hottest 100 – an Australia Day tradition. Why not run your own music quiz similar to Spicks and Specks? (This Wikipedia article gives a great explanation for some of the games from the show).


WATCH an Australian film or documentary – AustralianScreen has 1065 short clips with teachers’ notes, suitable for students of all ages. Divided into categories such as History, Film and Media, Identity and Culture and more, these clips give insight into many aspects of Australian life. Perhaps your students will be inspired to create their own great Aussie documentary?


TRAVEL around Australia – with the internet, you don’t have to leave the classroom to tour our amazing country. Why not plan a virtual Australian trip visiting key historic or geographic sites, or use Are we There Yet? by Alison Lester to inspire Australian travel discussions and activities.

Whatever you do, celebrate Australia Day! We have an amazing country, filled with fascinating people, nature and culture – share below in the comments how you plan to spend Australia Day in your classroom!

Running a Maker Faire: Good Hard Fun at St Joachim’s

After being inspired by our fantastic day working with Gary Stager and Sylvia Martinez at the Invent to Learn day hosted by Brisbane Catholic Education (which you can read about in the earlier post, Resourcing the Maker Movement, my colleagues and I decided to run a Maker Faire at one of our schools. Being based at ResourceLink, I began creating kits of resources and equipment that we could use to run the Maker Faire, and which could then be borrowed by schools who wish to investigate using this style of hands on learning.

Running the Maker Faire

The plan was to run the Maker Faire at St Joachim’s, Holland Park West, where we could work with the Teacher Librarian who had also attended the Invent to Learn day, to introduce the Year 5,6 & 7 students to a range of hands on activities based on the ideas in Invent to Learn.

We organised the students into groups of 8, and timetabled them to spend about one hour on each of the activities, which they would rotate through throughout the day. cardboard alley

One space, ‘Cardboard Alley’ was open for the students to visit at any stage during the day, and offered the students the opportunity to use Makedo and Rolobox equipment with a huge assortment of cardboard boxes of all shapes and sizes. This was an important option, as it provided students a place to go and recharge if they completed an activity early, or if they just needed a ‘brain break’ from the more challenging activities.

During the Maker Faire, the students had fun with:

Lego WeDo – an introduction to Lego engineering and robotics, Lego WeDo allows students from Year 3 and up to build and program simple models such as cranes, cars and ferris wheels. Using either the Lego WeDo software, or the free programming app Scratch, students can experiment and develop skills in  language and literacy, math and technology, as well as enhance their creativity, communication and design skills.


Arduino – Arduino is an open-source electronics  platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software. Using Arduino, students can write simple programs using  Arduino open source software to create projects using motors, gearboxes, speakers, LEDs, switches, cases and many other electronic parts.Projects can be as simple or as complex as you wish, suiting users from Year 5 and up.


Makey Makey – allows students to turn everyday objects into touchpads and combine them with the internet. Simply use the supplied wires or alligator clips to connect any type of everyday item (such as fruit, plants, coins, play dough etc) to the Makey Makey board, and then plug the board into the computer, and you are able to interact with the computer by way of the attached objects. Students love playing computer games using fruit as the controllers!


Squishy Circuits– by combining conductive and non-conductive dough with a battery pack, leds, small motors and buzzers, students are able to create innovative simple circuits of any shape. A fascinating way to learn about circuitry and basic electronics.


Interactive Cardcraft– students were able to make light up greeting cards by using conductive paint and copper tape along with led lights and small batteries to create simple circuits on the cards. The challenge was to apply their understanding of circuits and switches to the real-life application of the greeting card.


Interactive Wearables – Using ideas from this wonderful soft circuits booklet, students created brooches and arm-bands that lit up by sewing circuits using conductive thread, copper tape, batteries and led lights. While the sewing was challenging, so too was the application of their understanding of simple circuits to another practical challenge.


During the day, the students had so much fun. Their smiles, their engagement and the question ‘is this really school work?’ was evidence that the Maker Faire was a big success. However, not only did the students have fun; they also learnt so much about circuitry, programming, robotics and simple electronics, as well as developing their creativity, their problem-solving strategies and their ability to collaborate and work together. We encouraged the students to ask each other for help, and to share their successes and failures throughout the day. Listen to the conversations the students are having during this short video:

Constructing the Invent to Learn kits: advice for libraries wishing to resource Maker Spaces

When creating the kits for the Maker Faire, I purchased equipment from a range of different outlets. As a library, ResourceLink cannot supply the consumable equipment required for these kits, and so I created detailed lists of what was included and what the user needed to supply in order to run the activity successfully. This information is included in each kit on a laminated card (copies of which you can download below). I also included where possible printable information and instruction cards, which you can download also from the links below. Being based in Brisbane Australia, please note that some of the suppliers are locally based, however some of the online retailers ship all over the world.

Cardboard Construction:

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Squishy Circuits:

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Makey Makey:

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Click on the image to download a printable pdf version.

Arduino:2013-10-30_1217_001Lego Engineering:2013-10-30_1217_002Interactive Papercraft:2013-10-30_1217_003

Links to all of the resources you could possibly need to learn more about Maker Faires and creating maker spaces in a library are available on the ResourceLink Pinterest Board, Makerspaces and STEAM in Libraries or Anywhere, and also curated on this Pearltrees site.

For those who want to try running their own Maker Faire, I can only say: Go for it! The learning, the enjoyment and engagement is well worth the organisation, and the equipment is really not as costly as you would imagine. Start small, and build up. You may be surprised at what your school already owns, once you start investigating! For those in Brisbane Catholic Education, borrow these pre-made kits as a ‘try before you buy’ – contact ResourceLink find out how you can borrow these new resources today!

Understanding E-Textbooks – it’s not Elementary!

Many  schools are currently wrestling with the concept of e-textbooks. The traditional textbook provided a simple interface to support student learning; the e-textbook creates numerous complexities. However, like everything in education, we are challenged to provide whatever offers students the best learning experience.

The ability to publish books in a digital format is still so new; although we have had access to pdf versions of textbooks and texbook information available via a cd-rom for some time, the iPad, through which so many of us access e-publications was launched on the 3 April, 2010 – just 3 years ago! The Kindle became available in Australia just one year before that – on October 19, 2009.

It is easy to forget this fact, and also to overlook the fact that the physical textbook itself has gone through many iterations to become what it is today. One of the earliest textbooks is Ars minor (The Smaller Art [of Grammar]). It was written in the 4th century by Aelius Donatus, who was the teacher of Jerome who translated the Bible from Hebrew and Greek into Latin. Donatus’s Ars minor was one of the first items to be printed in Europe, on Gutenberg’s printing press.  By the time education was made compulsory in the 19th century, the textbook had established its place in the classroom; it sold approximately 2 million copies in 18th century America.

So a tool that has been central to teaching and learning for over 300 years is now being challenged by a new delivery method – is it any wonder that for those of us teaching during this time of transition, we are finding that it is not all smooth sailing!

The University of Queensland Library defines etextbooks as follows:

E-textbooks are a subset of the ebook format. E-textbooks are written for students, published for use by educational institutions. They cover core course content. This contrasts with ebooks bought by the library that support research, or to supplement the learning experience. E-textbooks generally come with features not available to print equivalents: assessments, such as quizzes; lecture slides; social media channels, facilitating student interaction. Until recently, e-textbooks have been digital equivalents of printed books…there is an increasing trend for e-textbooks to be born digital, and to not be released in print. (University of Queensland Library, 2012)

Unlike physical textbooks, digital textbooks can take different forms:

  • Hybrid textbooks – print textbooks with a cd rom insert with digital support material
  • Digital textbooks – replicas of print textbooks in different file formats
  • Enhanced digital textbooks – delivered online or in ebook format, these textbooks feature interactive elements such as quizzes, video clips or social media capabilities
  • Proprietary publisher solutions – online teaching and learning environments which contain textbook information as part of the offering (Hallam, G. 2012)

Some challenges may derive from the fact that the potentials of digital delivery of learning materials go far beyond the traditional textbook format, however currently some publishers are trying to replicate the textbook model, using digital tools.

The advantages of e-textbooks seem logical:

  • 24/7 and remote access
  • enhanced mobility and reduction in physical size
  • inbuilt features such as search, dictionary
  • enhancement of learning experience via inbuilt multimedia and interactivity
  • improved accessibility for students with sight impairment

However,  teachers and teacher librarians report challenges including

  • the need for digital  infrastructure including strong WiFi networks
  • the cost of providing/maintaining devices required to deliver digital content
  • the time-consuming nature and complexity of management
  • the inability to provide textbook hire or resale of texts

At present, there are many models of digital rights management, and each publisher retains the right to determine how users may access the content, and for how long. Textbooks may be licenced to individual students via registration keys which may expire after 12, 18 or 24 months, and the ability to transfer ownership should a student no longer require a text varies in complexity, and is in some cases not possible. Schools which previously operated a book hire scheme cannot offer this cost-saving measure when using digital textbooks. Students themselves often find that they find the traditional paper textbook easier to manage, depending upon the subject material.

It is not surprising that these challenges exist, given how recently digital textbooks have become available. As technology improves, and as publishers establish more effective models of distribution, these issues will reduce. In fact, one product which seems to address some of these challenges is LearningField, which is  a new initiative from the Copyright Agency. From the Learning Field website:

The website and application provide an industry solution for the distribution of digital textbooks to secondary school students. LearningField provides a resource-rich digital platform which allows teachers to select the best material to support the differing needs of Years 7–10 students across all subject areas. Initially content is provided by publishers Cambridge University Press, Jacaranda, Oxford University Press and Pearson.

While paper textbooks will probably exist for quite some time yet, initiatives such as this show that there is scope to move beyond traditional models of content delivery, and to embrace the potential that digital technology provides. The next few years will most probably be a bumpy journey, and currently e-textbooks are anything but elementary; but one good thing about the rate of technological change is that we certainly will not be waiting for too long!

For a summary of this post and for further resources, check out this interactive image:


Hallam, G. C. (2012). Briefing paper on eTextbooks and third party eLearning products and their implications for Australian university libraries. Retrieved from

The New England Primer. (2013, October 11). In Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved from

University of Queensland Library (2012a). E-Textbook FAQs. Retrieved October 18, 2013 from