Winter 2011

Open letter: The Open University's Newest Paperless Courses

A pilot experiment at the Open University is testing the use of specially designed electronic books. The ramifications of this experiment could be quite significant for future generations of students.

What could be more endemic to the life of a university student than desk tops piled high with textbooks, toting them around campus in heavily-ladened knapsacks, flipping through them late into the night, highlighting section after section with highlighter pens and scribbling notes along the book's margins.

All of this may soon become obsolete. Welcome to the new look at the Open University. A paperless look.

The Open University recently launched a new pilot project using a specially developed hand-held electronic device the E-Reader similar to the Sony reader and Kindle.

Developed in conjunction with Bookware, a Tel Aviv based company that develops electronic book reader devices and e-book publishing systems for educational institutions, corporate and general markets, E-Reader will be distributed at no charge to a select group of Open University students.

"Instead of lugging around piles of heavy textbooks, students will receive a small, sexy, slim, pocket-sized device that they can carry with them anywhere, read, add notes on and highlight important texts," explains Edna Tal, Director of "Shoham" the Center of Integrating Technology in Distance Education at the Open University.

The E-Reader's technology has been specifically designed to enable customization of size, color and font type, reading direction (horizontal or vertical), etc.

Functions were designed to meet an academic institution's needs, such as search, adding comments, bookmarking and highlighting capabilities.

"Within the framework of the pilot project, we will check a number of factors: ease of reading, possibilities for improving the applications to enhance learning. Eventually, all students at the Open University should be able to have the option to choose to receive their books digitally or in print," says Edna.

Prof. Hagit Messer-Yaron, President of the Open University, summarizes the University's long-term thinking, "The new world of electronic books opens before us innovative and unique possibilities for academic learning. We expect that the ramifications in terms of the use of the E-Reader will be significant."