From Print to Digital: My Story of (Text)Books

Woman typing on mobile phone

Today I just bought an audio book on my phone. That is such a long way from how my relationships with books started!

My Parents’ Living Room

My parents’ love of books is evident in their living room. Three in four walls are covered in just about floor-to-ceiling bookshelves with alphabetized entries neatly organized by subject.

If you can believe this, until graduate school, I never had to borrow a book from the library; my parents’ personal library had every title, not only in my native Romanian, but also in English and French (my family’s other two languages). I remember neighbors would knock on our door asking to borrow books that were on reference only at the library 🙂

My favorite books in my parents’ collection were the multi-volume Romanian encyclopedia (each volume weighing something like 15 lb) and the large-format, multi-volume human anatomy and physiology atlas. The only alternatives were books on record (I have wonderful memories of listening to bedtime stories on record).


My Early Teaching

In the late 1990s, as I was beginning my teaching career, I wanted to get away from writing with chalk on the classroom blackboard, and came up with the idea of putting my lectures on a floppy disk. Each desk in this classroom has a computer and, before each class, I’d go from computer to computer to install my lecture file. Soon all my colleagues wanted to try this method. Not many years after that, I became interested in how we could teach with technology, and decided to pursue a graduate degree in how to design eLearning.

Graduate School

In contrast to my early and undergraduate education (all tuition-free in Romania), graduate school (in Tokyo, Japan while teaching full time) meant paying international-student tuition and buying textbooks. At that time I realized what an amazing investment my parents had made in my education. Their book collection cost a fortune back in those days!

Faced with the cost of graduate school, and trying to avoid getting in too much debt, I often opted to buy the digital alternative to the print textbook. Whenever I bough the print version of the textbook, I had to figure in the 2-week delivery time and the higher cost. What I loved about the digital textbook versions were the:

  • low cost (because I did not have to pay for the paper, ink, binding, shipping, etc.)
  • immediate access (I could start reading as soon as I paid)
  • portability (I could take my textbook anywhere my laptop could go)
  • digital perks (save, download, search, highlight, use the read out loud feature, etc.).

I have to admit that I got on the Lorax’s blacklist because, whenever I could afford paper and ink for my personal printer, I would print out my digital books and arrange them in 3-ring binders. While I favored the digital copy for the ease of search, I preferred to study and take notes on paper (it was also easier and safer to handle paper on the crowded Tokyo trains than risk breaking my laptop).

My Later Teaching

When I graduated and I started teaching online, I tried to use the library’s eReserve. If I absolutely had to use a textbook, I chose one that students were likely to use again later in their program of study and/or that was very economical.

When teaching face-to-face, I often worked for education institutions that designed and produced their own textbook series (as is the case with Gaba, Berlitz, and University of Phoenix). During those years I started appreciating personalized learning solutions more than ever before.

My Early Instructional Design

As an instructional designer, I always keep the cost of textbooks in mind and look for low or no-cost textboook solutions. I’ve often used digital course packs that isolated only those reading fragments that students absolutely needed to have in order to succeed in the course, and, using XanEdu (for digitizing, clearing copyright, packing, and selling), offered a convenient, low-cost textbook alternative.

My Current Design Practice

Knowledge used to be a privilege; now it is a right.

As was the case in my parentss generation, knowledge came at a high cost, in the form of books. These days, just about any topic is freely available on the web, in multimedia format, and from reliable sources. You can often take your pick of an infographic, a video tutorial, a white paper, an full-text eBook, and so forth. When we do select instructional content, we have more and more high quality, peer-reviewed, and open/free alternatives. We can now do more in the way of personalizing.

With my website, I endeavor to bring free resources to your fingertips and start conversations that hopefully contribute to better teaching and learning experiences.

What about you?

What is your story from print to digital?

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