Does Amazon's Kindle have the power to transform education?
Schools’ use of digital textbooks began before 2009, but it was a watershed year for this emerging trend in higher education: Inspired by the introduction of a Kindle electronic reader designed specifically for textbooks, several colleges and universities announced pilot projects to see how well the technology meets students’ needs.
This fall, at least five colleges and universities began piloting Amazon’s Kindle DX electronic reading device, which is designed specifically for reading textbooks.
The Kindle DX, unveiled during a May 6 press conference at Pace University in New York, sports a 9.7-inch screen, compared to the 6-inch screen on the original Kindle. It also features a built-in QWERTY keyboard for note taking. The handheld reader will let users read magazines, newspapers, and textbooks complete with images and graphics. Users also can read PDF files on the Kindle DX–a selling point for faculty members whose courses regularly assign class readings on PDF files.
Officials at colleges and universities piloting the new device said they would carefully track how the Kindle DX affects learning for students accustomed to lugging heavy textbooks from building to building throughout their academic careers.
“Is this the watershed device of electronic text readers we’ve been waiting for?” asked Marty Ringle, chief technology officer at Reed College in Portland, Ore., which gave Kindles to students in three courses this fall. “Or is it a just another evolutionary step on the way to that revolutionary device? We’ll see if it’s a viable alternative to print media.”
Digital books might represent the future of textbooks, but Amazon and other e-reader companies still have a long way to go to make it happen–even for a technology-saturated generation that should be more receptive to the shift: Early responses from students at the campuses piloting the Kindle DX have been lukewarm so far.
Most said they liked the prospect of having anytime access to a semester’s worth of reading on the Kindle, which can wirelessly download books or get material by being plugged into a PC. But several students said they disliked taking notes on a keyboard with Tic-Tac-sized keys that sits under a 9.7-inch screen.
“I like the aspect of writing something down on paper and having it be so easy and just kind of writing whatever comes to my mind,” said Claire Becerra, a freshman at Arizona State University.
Becerra tried typing notes on the Kindle’s small keyboard, but when she went back to reread them she found they were laden with typos and didn’t make sense. After a month, she said she takes far fewer notes and relies on the Kindle’s highlighter tool instead.
Schools piloting the Kindle DX came under fire from advocates for the blind, who filed a lawsuit against Arizona State and other schools earlier this year, claiming the Kindle’s read-aloud feature was too hard to access. Amazon moved to quell these concerns in December, announcing that it will add features to its Kindle eBook reader to make the gadget more accessible to blind and visually impaired students and other users.
Despite Amazon’s concessions, students already have an increasing number of options for reading electronic books beyond just the company’s Kindle–and one commenter to a recent story at eCampus News wondered what all the hype about the DX was about.
“There are eBooks available for every major textbook through CourseSmart and VitalSource,” the reader observed. “They can be downloaded or accessed online to [a] desktop, laptop, netbook, [or] even an iPhone. There are lots of other eBook [options] out there that have better features than the Kindle.”
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