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Evaluation of electronic readers for reading student assignments. Tom Liversidge, The University of Manchester. Background and Context. Background and Context. Motivation for study.

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evaluation of electronic readers for reading student assignments

Evaluation of electronic readers for reading student assignments

Tom Liversidge, The University of Manchester

background and context
Background and Context

Motivation for study

  • School of Nursing, Midwifery and Social Work introduced an online submissions system for student assignments in March 2008.
  • Students submitted assignments through Blackboard as Microsoft Word files.
  • Markers given assignments as electronic documents, not printed.
  • This highlighted the uncomfortable nature of reading on-screen:
    • Headaches
    • Eyestrain
    • Fatigue
  • Alternative method sought for reading electronic documents.
background and context4
Background and Context

Electronic Readers (e-readers)

  • Small portable devices for reading electronic documents.
  • Offer an alternative to traditional methods of reading.
  • Use a technology called electronic ink (e-ink) that claims a reading parity with paper.
  • JISC TechDis HEAT Scheme funded the purchase of six devices:
    • 2X Sony Reader PRS-505
    • 2X Irex Iliad
    • Bookeen Cybook Gen 3
    • Hanlin LBook V3
  • Two more devices (DR1000s) obtained direct from Irex.
study question
Study Question
  • Do e-readers offer an acceptable alternative to traditional methods of reading student assignments?
study design
Study Design


  • Study ran alongside online submissions system using real student submissions.
  • Between November 2008 and April 2009, assignment submissions for seven course units in the BNurs Programme used the online system.
  • 18 markers agreed to participate in the study.
  • Markers had between 2 and 50 assignments to mark each, between 1200 and 3500 words.
  • Some assignments included images and tables.
  • All five e-reader models were used, distributed based on availability.
  • Assignments were transferred to the devices using appropriate software and given to markers to evaluate.
  • Markers were given a brief training session on the use of their e-reader.
study design9
Study Design


  • E-learning staff evaluated each devices on a range of technical factors:
    • Text size
    • Image display
    • Document structure preservation
    • Table display
  • Markers completed an online evaluation questionnaire.

Main feedback

  • 76% of markers reported that they would use an e-reader in the future, although only 54% reported feeling Satisfied or Very Satisfied with the actual e-reader they used.
  • General reduction in reported physical discomforts when using an e-reader when compared with a computer screen.
    • BUT no data on how long e-readers were used for.
  • Positive comments attributed to the e-ink technology
  • Negative comments attributed to the usability of the e-reader in question.


  • Storage of all assignments on a single device.
  • Manoeuvrability of a hand held device.
  • Portability of device.
  • Less eyestrain and discomfort when using e-ink displays.
  • Potentially saves time and money for the exams office if they don’t have to print out hundreds of assignments.


  • Page numbering can be lost when converted to e-reader.
  • No word-count function.
  • No easy way to “flick” between text and references.
  • Problems displaying images and tables with some devices.
  • Problems displaying images in grey-scale if original conveyed information in colour.
  • Difficulties in transferring documents from Microsoft Word format to e-reader format.
  • Training issues and change management.
  • Main advantages of portability, reduced physical discomfort and the ability to store all documents on a single device are strong motivating factors.
  • Issues specific to marking student assignments contributed to lower satisfaction ratings.
  • E-ink technology shows a lot of potential as an alternative to traditional methods of reading electronic documents.
  • Problems exist with current e-readers when used for marking student assignments.
  • Personal preference is a strong factor!