Kindle lightens textbook load, but flaws remain

Other students struggled when professors had them read documents in PDF format, which doesn’t show up well on the Kindle. Users can’t zoom in or make notes on them, and diagrams sometimes get separated from notes explaining them.

John Sherman, a first-year MBA student at the University of Virginia, says he can read some case studies on the Kindle but still needs to print others.
“For the cases that require a lot of calculations, I find paper cases to be better,” says Sherman, 31. “For me, it helps to scribble my thoughts in the margins.”

Todd Schiller, 22, a student in the University of Washington’s doctorate program in computer science, says he prefers the visual cues of a paper textbook to the “tunnel vision” that today’s e-reading promotes.

Opening two big textbook pages puts the section he’s reading into context: Seeing how many pages remain in a chapter or the book helps him understand how far along he is in the author’s plot or argument.

Students at seven schools are responding to surveys throughout this academic year and get to keep their Kindles. Inc. hasn’t speculated on what improvements or new products might result and declined comment for this story.

The dozen or so students interviewed by the AP had compliments for the Kindle, too.

Most like how light the device is–just over a pound–and many would be willing to overlook technical hassles if it meant not having to carry any books. Most still had to buy and carry textbooks for non-Kindle classes this fall.

Students also were impressed with the “electronic ink” screen, which Amazon touts as far easier on the eyes than reading off a computer monitor. But it can’t be backlit, disappointing one student who wants to read during dark early-morning bus commutes.

Kraizel, the Case Western freshman, says always having the Kindle with her has improved her study habits. It’s much easier to cram in a few minutes of studying between classes, she says, and she’s noticed that when she sits down for a serious study session she’s more familiar with the material.

The Kindle also can do things books can’t, like read homework aloud. Una Hopkins, a 46-year-old student in the nurse-practitioner program at Pace University in New York, got five chapters finished that way when she was stuck in traffic.

“It was robotic, but it got me where I needed to go,” Hopkins says.

The device’s usefulness goes beyond textbooks: Another Washington grad student in computer science, Franziska Roesner, has used the web browser to read and write eMail when she’s away from her computer. It’s slow, but it worked, she says.

And sometimes its uses go beyond productivity entirely. Students at Arizona State have found the Minesweeper video game that comes with the device. They’ve also figured out how to download music.

Roesner, who was steeped in Kindle hype as an intern at Amazon over the past two summers, lamented the device’s problems with PDFs, which make up the bulk of this quarter’s assignments. Still, she won’t write off e-readers.

“If reading devices like this really come to replace reading paper,” she wrote in an eMail, “I think in 20 years we’ll look back at the Kindle with nostalgic affection and amusement, like we now look back at 1990s computers.”

Note to readers:

Don’t forget to visit the Placing Reading Power in Students’ Hands resource center. All students deserve an equal education, but sometimes language barriers or learning disabilities leave some students lagging behind and struggling to understand words or concepts. Go to: Placing Reading Power in Students’ Hands