i3 conference at RGU in Aberdeen. It was presented by Professor Ágústa Pálsdóttir and coauthored by Sigriour Bjork Einarsdottir and entitled Advantages and disadvantages of printed and electronic study material: Perspectives of university students
This presentation focused on the Icelandic study that is part of the Academic Reading International Study (ARFIS), an international study involving researchers in 36 countries. I have reported on some of these studies, particularly in my reports from the ECIL conference. In this presentation, the authors concentrated on analysis of the open question in the survey.
Previous studies from this project have shown that students prefer printed materials, but also enjoy the convenience of online access, and being able to search inside and across electronic material. Students consider themselves more highly motivated and more likely to highlight and remember what they read. Male students are more likely to prefer online than do female students. Studies to do with behaviours in different disciplines is inconclusive.
The research question of this study was: what are the advantages and disadvantages of printed and electronic study material? Through this is was hoped to gain understanding about preferences and help librarians make collection decisions.
The survey was conducted at 2 Icelandic universities, advertised to 12K students. Response rate was 7.33% (952 respondents), and 178 students answered the open questions.The questionnaire was based on that from Mizrachi's (2014) original study, translated into Icelandic.
Five main themes were identified in the open questions. (1) Printed or electronic material: in this they were stating support for one of the other e.g. "The more teachers use electronic course readings, the happier I am". There were two subthemes: flexibility (having both); preferring electronic but wanting to print it out.
(2) Learning Approach. The first subtheme was ability to concentrate on the learning material e.g. mentioning distractions reading online. The 2nd subtheme was ability to remember the material (mostly saying that they remembered better from print) and the 3rd that the length of the text matters (e.g. articles were good online, but not books and chapters).
(3) Technology: limitations and possibilities. First subtheme was searching and browsing. Some had said electronic was better and some print (e.g. "it's much more easy to move between pages to check material I have read". 2nd subtheme was note making - many of them explained about why they preferred doing this on print e.g. it was easier to make notes or highlight on print, or "if I make notes on the computer, I end up by writing notes which are too long and I lose the main point". 3rd subtheme is technological advancement. The students made interesting observations about how the current technology was not convenient and how it could be improved (e.g. that you couldn't change the layout of pdfs so they were fewer pages to print out; that the material was "badly suited" to read on a screen). The final subtheme was about physical reasons e.g. reading from a screen affecting sleep, causing headaches.
(4) Convenience and expenses. The 1st subtheme was organising and access, where online was emphasised. The 2nd subtheme was cost - and here digital sources were seen as cheaper or free and preferable to buying textbooks etc.
(5) Environmental issues. This was quite a strong theme e.g. that they felt guilty printing out pages.
In sum "The main reason why students prefer printed material is based on their study habits and they feel that the technology has not developed sufficiently to support their learning engagement." Additionally it seems that physical problems haven't been paid enough attention, without awareness of how this can affect study engagement, and environmental aspects have weight with students.
Photo by Sheila Webber: student magazines from the early days of RGU librarianship, seen at the 50 anniversary reception last night