In a move to push the e-book and e-reader market forward, the South Korean government will be mandated that all elementary-level educational materials be digitized by 2014 and schools to deliver textbooks and books on tablets by 2015. However, for digital books to succeed in the educational space, more work still needs to be done to improve the user experience on digital devices like e-reader, tablets, computers, and smartphones.
According to Technology Review, the proposal will result in the government spending $2.4 billion in the necessary tablet hardware for the classroom as well as for the efforts to digitize the books.
Though the government has not announced what hardware(s), platform(s), format(s), or standard(s) will be supported for its educational initiative, it is speculated that home-grown manufacturers like Samsung, and potentially LG, may be favored over foreign tablets, like U.S.-based Apple’s iPad.
At this point, it’s also not known how the distribution system for textbooks will work. Samsung already has its own digital hub for novels and regular books, and it’s unclear if there will be a unified textbook store operated by one or more entities, or if there will be multiple stores on multiple apps. If there are different apps, stores, and formats, it’s also unclear how books and notes will sync between different hardware and platforms.
However, for education to go digital, more work will need to be done to either create the appropriate hardware to enable digital learning or to re-vamp the software for use on existing tablet hardware, like the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1.
For now, there are several issues with electronic books when used for academic purposes. First, there is the issue of page synchronization. As fonts, text size, and screen size will all affect the pagination of books, it will be difficult for teachers and peers to say ‘reference page 132,’ for example. Second, there has to be an easy way for notes to be easily exported, shared, and saved. Right now, on Amazon’s Kindle, if Amazon delivers a revised version of a book, user-generated annotations and notes are lost. And third, it’s still too early to tell if inking will be deemed a necessary component to a digital classroom. As students grow up on writing in margins and scribbling notes for themselves in books, the paradigm shift from physical books to an environment fostered by digital learning will need more evaluation.
So far, limited trials of Kindle, iPad, and smartphones as e-readers in U.S. schools and institutions have been met with mixed results.