The rise of tablets has ignited the passion for ebooks. While many lovers of literature still prefer the feel of paper between their fingers, many others are falling in love with the ease, flexibility, and savings of ebooks. Students are growing up in this trend and will become adults equally comfortable reading books on paper, tablets, or even smartphones. Our classrooms don’t need to abandon paper, but cultivating digital book resources can provide more options for instructional support as well as richer digital interaction for students. Thankfully, an ever-increasing variety of resources are becoming available. Let’s talk about them!
But, hold on. Let’s note something important before rushing on. In this wild and crazy Internet age, stealing is easy. If you want to share Google Doc-formatted copies of The Fault in Our Stars with your entire freshman English class, and you do that by converting a PDF you (cough) obtained on some website somewhere, you are violating copyright. Educators enjoy Fair Use privileges, but digital power enables us to venture past that safe harbor into the realm of illegality. Don’t do that. So much material is freely accessible for educators, and we’ll discuss those resources below.
Now, let’s see what’s out there. Below, you will find some typical teacher needs and brief discussion of resources that can fill those needs. For a more complete guide, check out this ebook guide. It provides detailed discussions of ten online ebook resources. Once you’ve had a chance to consider what’s out there, you may have questions about access, duplication, distribution, and anything else necessary for instructional implementation. Direct any of those questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Help will be on the way!
What do you want to do?
I just want simple access to ebooks for my students, preferably for free.
First of all, have you checked out the Toledo Lucas County Public Library’s offerings? You might be amazed. It offers free borrowing of ebooks, emagazines, and more, and any Ohio resident can obtain a library card. Your school can even sign up for an institutional library card that each student can use. Cool apps like OverDrive and Hoopla (and more specific apps like BookFlix and ScienceFlix) make these books accessible. If you’re teaching non-ELA content, the TLCP Library offerings should be of interest to you.
Also, books that are available in the public domain, like Frankenstein, A Tale of Two Cities, Little Women, or the entire works of Shakespeare can be found just about anywhere for free copying. The best places to find these works are Project Gutenberg or the Online Books Page, amazing repositories of public domain works that offer these books in formats ranging from text to web to Kindle format. If you’re teaching literature, you’ll find familiar and unfamiliar titles. (Check out this article for some good ideas) Actively Learn offers the same sort of public domain material, but it does so with a lesson material generator that allows for the addition of multimedia, comments, and interactive elements.
I want to give elementary readers access to more books.
If you want your students to read elementary-level books with audio and video support, consider Epic! Books or offerings from the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, like Bookflix or Tumblebooks. These apps will provide free access to a wide range of books suitable for a range of elementary readers. Even more than that, Epic! provides classroom management tools that enable you to monitor reading behavior.
I want to try online textbooks, but without paying for them.
If you’re teaching in the junior high to high school level, then check out OpenStax CNX. (For elementary textbook content, go back to the TLCP Library for a resource like ScienceFlix). The original OpenStax project began at Rice University to provide free college textbook material in a climate of ever-increasing costs. Since it started, OpenStax has become a giant collective of college educator-driven textbook material, and much of it has been collected in entire collections. You could choose from full textbooks on biology, introductory algebra, or American history, or you could select sections from those collections.
I want to give students the option of ebooks instead of paper books, and our school/department can pay for them.
Check out Amazon’s foray into book distribution for education, Whispercast. Whispercast provides teachers with a simple interface to create classes, add students, purchase books, and distribute those books. Many books are free, but most cost anywhere for $0.99 to $9.99 or more each, depending on the book. The best part of this service is that it is based on the massive Amazon library of ebooks and uses their Kindle app (which is truly cool) to drive reading.
I teach special populations of students, so I only need books for them.
Sometimes, books that usually cost money are available for free to special populations. Through Bookshare, for instance, students with print disabilities can access a huge range of books (even common textbooks are available) with support ranging from audio to full braille. An expert (which can be an intervention specialist) must verify the student’s need, but then they’re in. In a similar way, the Obama White House began an initiative in 2016 called Open eBooks, where schools receiving Title I status can have free access to a large library of pay materials for free.
I want to provide audio support for students.
Audiobooks can be cheap or expensive, but let’s talk about free instead. You can find audio support from quite a few of the resources mentioned above, like the Toledo Lucas County Public Library, Epic! Books, Project Gutenberg, or the Online Books Page. Check out Lit2Go, too. It offers a more limited range of selections, but they all come with audio support, reading levels, and strategy targets. Further, if you want to provide audio support for students with identified print disabilities, check out Bookshare, mentioned in the question above. Further, this excellent online directory lists 700 free audiobooks in a variety of formats.
The possibilities afforded by ebooks are truly wonderful, and immersing yourself in this world can greatly expand your horizons past your textbook or department closet. Explore the options and play with formats that bring diverse, authentic content to your students in a comfortable learning approach!
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