MET:Using eBooks and Online sources to Support Literacy in the Classroom

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Using eBooks and Online sources to Support Literacy in the Classroom by Robert McElroy & Wanyi Wong 2014



The march of technology is as old as education itself. Teachers and students have always tried to ways to improve the

PADD From Star Trek

learning experience, be it a slate and piece of chalk or the newest cutting edge tablet.[1] As technology advances, the learning environment for students is also changing and shifting. The materials used by educators to impart knowledge and ignite the passion for learning have undergone a massive shift in the past 50 years, a digital shift. Computers and other electronic devices slowly have made their way into the classroom for a long time but with the adoption of the Internet and portable computing devices a dream that had long been imagined in Sci-fi Children now are more familiar with using electronic devices to learn and study than through traditional ways. The way that teachers can provide information to their students today have undergone a digital shift and the move away from physical materials has begun. Convenience and affordability has made classrooms more dynamic than ever. Bound books and traditional resources like encyclopedias have become the latter choice behind eBooks and sites such as Wikipedia. This shift has resulted in tablet based eBooks and online resources such as Wikipedia and Reading A to Z to become the top choice for support for lesson planning and teaching.

'This image was taken from collection of postcards from 1910, in which the French artist Villemard envisioned the year 2000. Villemard's is housed at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. Here is a link"

Apple keynote in 2012 that gives some of the benefits of using a tablet and ibooks as a ebook delivery method

Examples of eBooks and online literacy resources

Benefits of using eBooks and online materials

Here is an interesting debate over Traditional Vs. Digital Media

Teacher Testimonials

'One Teacher Outlines How Ebooks Have Been a Success in Her School


Using electronic mediums in classrooms instead of traditional physical mediums, make it much easier for teachers and students to switch between texts. This is possible due to the mass databases of information available online. This flexibility allows the teacher to alternate between texts/works to make literacy connections more visible to students. With more visuals and samples of work, students can scaffold the information taught to them much easier. In literacy, students often practice making connections from their lessons to other texts, to self, and to the world. Tools like Reading A to Z, can provide students with access to literature to challenge their reading level and to enhance their balanced reading level experience. Videos and Current events available online, can help students make connections to the world around and to themselves. With online resources, students are exposed to more material than the teacher can physically provide to help them learn.[3][4]

Portability, connectivity and interactivity

The ways that online resources can be access by makes them much more convenient for teachers. What would of been a mountain of paper books that used to take up the space of a tall bookcase can now rest effortlessly in one mobile device as if it was a personal library that could be retrieved regardless of time and space.[5]

Unlike traditional paper and print books eBooks bring a great deal of convenience to students. They never go out of print, get damaged and can be updated instantly with a upgrade or update. On the other hand, the software that enables eBooks to be readable on personal devices usually provides features such as full text searching, customizable font size, mark-up, or even note taking (Lucia, 2001). Moreover, the content of an eBook may be supplemented with multimedia, which assures a greater variety of information to be displayed simultaneously. ―Hyperlinks can be used to bring the student, while reading the text, to a number of educational resources that cannot be included in the text of the course, such as multimedia materials, interactive exercises, quizzes, discussions, etc‖ (Mazza, 2008, p. 2). Therefore, eBooks may serve as learning tools especially among students who are comfortable with the technology.


Firstly, teacher-creation of eBooks seemed to be worthwhile strategies to further investigate. The technical skills behind the development of teacher-made eBooks were minimal but its potential benefits can be great. With the creation of such programs as ibooks Author by Apple 2012, teacher made texts have both become easy to make and also the final product is amazingly interactive and engaging to their students. Furthermore, tailor-made materials are often a better fit to the curriculum as they can be customized heavily according to the needs of teachers.[6]



Traditionally textbook and publishing companies had a monopoly on what our kids read in schools. Boards would make the choice to purchase very expensive sets of books that teachers had to live with for a number of years until the board had enough money to purchase new ones. Typical elementary text books can cost close to or over $100 dollars and are out of date the moment they are printed. The 4 largest text book publishers made up to $4 billion each year.[8] Sites like is an example of a site that caters to university students wishing to save money by renting or buying eTextbooks. Students can save up to 50% off the printed text price without sacrificing the ability to annotate and makes notes. For elementary students, all of the major publishers include sites that allow students access to the digital version of their texts. One example is publishing giant McGraw-Hill, with their site McGraw-Hill Connect students have instant access to textbooks that can be tailored by there teacher to include content that is important to them.




One example of how digital literacy media has opened a new world for students is the World Reader Project.[14] World Reader is a program that shows the power of giving digital literacy tools to children. In only 5 months Worldreader wirelessly distributed more than 944,300 African and international e-books to children in 9 sub-Saharan African countries. And the results are staggering: in less than 5 months children show significant improvements in fluency and comprehension and the gender gap closed. [15]


eBooks and eTextbooks


eBooks are electronic versions of printed books, fiction, or non-fiction. eTextbooks, similarly are also electronic versions of printed books, but specifically textbooks used in classrooms. Such eTextbooks are more commonly used now, in post secondary environments, like universities and colleges. In the case of eTextbooks, usually the students would pay for access of the book via the publisher’s site, at a cheaper price than the actual book. This cuts down the cost of the book for the student and also saves on the space required for storage.

Many textbook companies such as Pearson and McGraw-Hill, not only publish textbooks and instructional resources that are used by teachers and students, but also electronic versions for use as well. To match market demands, they now create applications for similar uses on handheld devices like iPods, and iPads as well.

These products are created and promoted to the public as great replacements for it’s sustainability, entertainment, personalization, flexibility and it’s social learning capabilities. Thought those are not that only reasons for it’s creation, they are often the reasons for it’s popularity.[17][18][19]

Online literacy resources benefit students with learning disabilities

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Devices such as the iPad have opened new worlds for kids with LDs

Children with learning disabilities (LD), like dyslexia, have trouble understanding the words they read. [20]Research now demonstrates that when children with LD are given accessible instructional materials that are delivered in audio and/or digital formats — they can excel in school and also learn to enjoy reading.

Reading with digital (or e-books) and audio books can enrich a user’s learning experience by engaging them in the content in multi-sensory ways (e.g., reading and listening at the same time, reading along while the e-book highlights each word).

The benefit of ebooks is largely in their customization. A traditional book, due to being printed with ink on paper, is not very customizable. But an ebook offers the ability to change the look of the book.


Environmentally friendly

Infographic on Carbon Footprint of eBooks

These days everyone wants to do their part of the environment. It is a fact that our planet is straining to support the human race and we need to find ways to take any stress off the environment. One way to do this is to stop the pollution and deforestation that is caused by the production of books every year. According the site Earth Green One[24] the number of eBooks sold in 2011 alone have saved over 1.2 million trees.

Those trees have the ability to remove 30,412 tons of CO2 from the atmosphere. To offset the carbon footprint of one eReader only 20-23 books (some sources have different stats) need to be read on that device to make it a carbon neutral choice. In addition to the direct benefits to the environment, eBooks also help to save the energy used to produce books, avoid pollution caused by the production of paper and also save the energy to recycle old books. To see the infographic please click here.

How can Teachers Use These Resources

Running Records

What is a Running Record? A running record allows you to assess a student's reading performance as she/he reads from a benchmark book. Benchmark books are books selected for running record assessment purposes. A running record form, with text from the book printed on the form, accompanies each of the benchmark books. Only the first 100 -150 words of the longer benchmark books are used for the upper level running records.

There are conflicting views on whether students should be assessed using a book they have never read versus using a book they are familiar with. Using a book that has not been previously read will give a more accurate measure of a student's ability to handle text at the assessed level. For this reason, we provide two benchmark books at each level: one fiction and one non-fiction. You can always opt to read the book before doing a running record if you prefer using previously-read text for your running record.

In the case of sites like, the teacher has the option to let the students read a book from the comfort of home, record themselves and upload the audio file to the site for the teacher to assess. This method removes the added stress of reading for a teacher while they are being evaluated. Giving the students the ability to read at home ensures that a teacher can understand their students true reading level. [25][26]

Support Multi-levels

Every classroom is made up of students at different levels of learning, some are higher while some are lower. Research shows that one of the reasons that students lose interest and motivation in what they are learning, is because the materials(text) is too difficult or too easy. Therefore it’s important for teachers to use and provide appropriate levels of text to increase motivation and enhance understanding. Using multileveled texts available online, allows for a chance for students of all levels to read and learn together. Multi-leveled texts, are books of the same topic written at multiple levels of complexity, so students are different levels can read books for the same topic at levels that are closest to their own reading level. This is done so that the contents stay relatively close to each other, while the vocabulary used may differ at the different levels. With this option being available to students at school and at home, students can read with others at home or at school, who are at similar reading levels as themselves. This also makes it easier for teachers to group students to do group readings so that they can progress together. [27]

Student Self Study

Online literacy resources can be used in classrooms for support as well as at home by self studying students. Sites like Raz-Kids allow teachers to assign accounts for students or classrooms for students access their learning accounts outside of the classroom. This makes it easier for students to study at home, or during free time when the teacher hasn’t allocated computer time. The accounts allow it’s users to continue their learning progress even if the teacher isn’t around, allowing for self studying. eBooks or etextbooks online, when accessed through registered accounts allow their readers to use tools to make notes, highlight, or bookmark important parts just like a real book.


  1. Larry Cuban, "Teachers and Machines: The Classroom Use of Technology Since 1920"