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    Location: Aberystwyth, Wales, United Kingdom

    I am the owner and managing director of Information Automation Limited (IAL), a company that specialises in research, consultancy and training for the information profession. We are particularly interested in all forms of electronic information resources (e-journals, e-books, etc) and I teach a course in electronic publishing at the Department of Information Studies in Aberystwyth. Drilling down still further(!), my interests centre on the quality and evaluation of electronic information, and in the thinking that underpins activities in library and information science.
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    Tuesday, July 03, 2007

    US School Children e-book reader usability study

    Professor Richard Bellaver of Ball State University - an expert in software usability - has been conducting a series of usability studies with children in a local school (see Richard Bellaver Current Endeavors). They are reported in TeleRead - the first report was Kids and e-books: Good news from Ball State’s e-dictionary studies and the repeat study is Students favor e-books over paper books in yet another BSU study: Lesson for K-12 and publishers?

    The first report was published in September 2006, and covers comparison dictionary studies conducted at the Huffer Memorial Children’s Center in Muncie Indiana and Kennard Elementary School in Kennard Indiana in the Spring of 2006. A third comparison dictionary study was conducted with adult users at Ball State University. All three studies showed that experience in using eBooks is the key to speed of usage.
    All adults (college students) with much experience in conventional hard copy look-up and no eBook experience had slower times using eBooks [i.e. e-Book Readers. cja]. They also didn’t think much of the overall efficiency of eBooks. Children who had some experience (reading books and doing markups and drawing over the past year) consistently had faster look-ups on the eBook than the conventional dictionary. Children who didn’t have any previous experience had mixed results, but half had at least one look-up faster on eBook that on the hard copy dictionary. The children consistently had favorable opinions about using eBooks.
    In his commentary, Professor Bellaver notes:
    We can be very optimistic of the potential of these students proving that there will be no detriment to learning using eBooks.
    The second report covers a study of the use of e-book readers containing a dictionary and the one reading book by elementary school children:
    The difference this year was that all students had used the WHDs [Wireless Hand-Held Devices or e-books readers. cja] for reading purposes and were much more familiar with the content and the "feel" of the electronic platform. Our hypothesis was that based on that exposure the students would have better look-up times using the eBooks. Twenty students were tested using only three words to look-up. On the average, two-thirds of the words were found faster by all students on the WHDs rather than in the conventional dictionary.
    There was also a reading study - the goal of which was:
    to allow disinterested fourth grade students to read from a WHD and find out if they might be stimulated to do more reading. The graduate students talked to the students about the WHDs and found that they were very eager to listen and to try something new. They didn’t need explanation of the features; they had them figured out pretty well on their own.
    The overall conclusion is that:
    Almost 50 third and fourth grade students were exposed to electronic reading on a hand held platform. ... The small scale of the effort won’t impress many people. My hope is that with better devices (I am now have a prototype of the Australian built QuokkaPad [RB had previously failed to gain the loan of either a Sony Reader or an iLiad. cja]), publisher cooperation, and more research to discover whether learning is enhanced through the use of technology we can get the backpacks off our children and maybe improve their education.
    A full report on this study is available at:

    There were also earlier studies: 'Usability of eBooks Fall 2003 and 2004' (research at Huffer Children’s Center) and 'Human Factors Testing of eBooks Spring 2002' on "learning with eBooks".

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