Kindles in the hands of second-graders: E-Readers for early education


Image courtesy of Engadget

 Since the dawn of the digital age we have been transitioning from old technologies and mediums to new ones. Today, everyone is heralding the demise of print: magazines, books and newspapers are increasingly being viewed online through computers, cell phones and tablets. Yet the textbook industry is stuck in the days of the printing press.

For years, we’ve heard reports on the rising costs of textbooks and the amount of strain that a backpack full of books can put on the spine of an 80lb 5th grader. But while slow, change is coming in the form of digital textbooks increasing their market share in higher education. According to a report by Dr. Robert Reynolds and Yevgeny Ioffe, digital texts currently account for .5% of the overall textbook market, but they will increase by 150-200% each year, reaching 18.8% by 2014.

One roadblock that has long stood in the way of digital textbooks is hardware. With the explosive popularity of netbooks, tablets and readers (the Amazon Kindle, Barnes and Noble Nook and the Apple iPad) having inexpensive eBook readers is becoming less of a concern. Take for instance the Kno tablet. The first of its kind, the Kno is a 14 inch touch screen tablet specifically designed to display digital textbooks and is being marketed to college students with the slogan “with savings of 20%-50% on textbooks, the Kno pays for itself in three terms.”

And higher education isn’t the only market. K-12 teachers across the nation are putting this technology in the hands of their younger students. At Clearwater High School, in Clearwater Florida, 2,000 students received a school-furnished Amazon Kindle preloaded with all the books they would need for the semester. Students were excited about the new technology and administrators were excited about the savings. John Just, assistant superintendent for management information systems for Pinellas County schools, said that the Kindle saved the English department so much money, it was able to fulfill its wish list, getting books like Superfreakonomics and Into the Wild.

Going even younger, this past November five second graders at Seneca Grade School in Illinois received their own Kindle to begin reading books from the “Magic Tree House” series by Mary Pope Osborne. After brief lessons on operating the Kindle, the young students were able to jump head first into their reading assignments. Dawn Stuedemann, their teacher, said the Kindle is “a powerful tool to make the kids feel they are responsible for their own learning.” Kathy Parker, the library media specialist responsible for the pilot program ,was able to start it only after finding lesson plans online written by Lotta C. Larson, assistant professor of elementary education at Kansas State University. Thanks to her lesson plans, called “Going Digital: Using e-Book Readers to Enhance the Reading Experience,” Parker got clearance from Superintendent Eric Misener to launch the program with younger students, and the districts middle school students already received several Kindles last year.

With cheaper prices, less weight and more interactive features, digital textbooks are superior to printed versions. The adoption process is slow, but more schools, teachers and students are taking it upon themselves to bring the 21st century into the classroom. It is not hard to imagine a day when printed textbooks are seen as archaic, and students simply download texts during their first day of class. Until then, we must get by with printed texts as we wait for publishers to transfer their collections to digital format.



Comments (9)

  1. Brook Schaaf

    Jeff, congrats on the new blog!

  2. coopermarcus

    “Digital textbooks are superior to printed versions”?! Not in my humble opinion, not even close.”Cheaper Prices” – Uh, only if you cherry pick your comparison points – if you compare the price of a brand new book, with no resale value, to the price of a digital textbook, then yes, sometimes digital books are cheaper – but that is a totally unfair comparison. Add some used value to the new book, or compare used books to digital books, or even compare rental prices, and most of the time the other options are now cheaper – without even considering the acquisition cost of the digital reader!”Less Weight” – Well sure, true, but since when were books considered “good” or “bad” based on their weight?! Textbooks can be heavy, but students aren’t always carrying them around, they can be printed on lighter paper, they can be split into multiple, lighter volumes, or students can just get a little stronger ; ) If we are comparing purely physical characteristics, we should note that digital textbooks are harder on the body in other ways (eyestrain from reading, RSI from button pressing to turn pages or type in notes, etc).”More Interactive Features” – Paper textbooks have had companion digital resources for years, and from what I’ve heard, these are not terribly successful. Integrating this content directly into the digital textbook, or at least making it a single click away, may help – but now you need a full-color, video-playback-capable reader, which is much more expensive than a Kindle. All you are getting here is a slight improvement in the accessibility of the interactive features – paper textbooks can include short URLs, or even QR tags, that make interactive content only a few clicks away (as many students will read textbooks with their laptops or mobile phones within easy reach). I don’t think this slight improvement is worth the other costs.The biggest issue I have is one of usability – textbooks need quick random access, easy notations, the ability to have a few open at once, spread across a desk, etc – just go to a typical college and watch some students interacting with their paper textbooks – you’ll see all sorts of behaviors that are, at best, more difficult when using digital textbooks. Are we really expecting humans (students) to make fundamental changes in the way they learn from “printed” material, all in the name of technological advance? Or, should the technology of learning meet the needs of the students? If the latter, then paper textbooks will remain superior in all ways for a long time.

  3. corianda

    Bold claims make for good debate! It’s an innovative solution, for sure, but there will always be a use and love for print.

  4. David Gusick

    It’s ironic that you talk about the kno and its value in your blog, but didn’t mention that the founder of kno is also the founder of the largest renter of books on the internet.

  5. cheryl capozzoli

    Wow Jeff! Great blog idea. I will be sure to follow! I am trying to bring ereaders to a K-12 school in PA. can’t wait to share your info. and research to others that can help move us along! Cost cutting and easier knowledge gathering and sharing! I can’t imagine that paper texts will continue to be norm for long! Thanks for sharing!

  6. Jeff Cohen

    DavidThank you for your comment and in the future I will be sure to disclose any relationships that may not be obvious. You are correct the President of Kno is also the Chairman of the Board and Founder of Chegg.

  7. Matthew Taylor

    Jeff – Bookmarking the blog.

  8. Helen

    I don’t believe the argument that students will always want printed textbooks. Those of us of a certian age cannot imagine school without the bulk of textbooks….but I also couldn’t imagine my dorm room without a stereo and milk crates filled with albums. Kids who are in middle school today will not be using printed texts when they get to college. And it will be their choice.

  9. Carol Ann McAusland, M.Ed. CAES

    Good stuff, Jeff. Now, what about using the iPad? And, what my LD students really need is an “app” or something that reads text aloud. Like Wynn or Kurzweil. Do you know of such a thing? Also, what is the situation with California textbooks? There is a mandate that all must provide computer copies—but the computer version is locked so that no accomodations (text out loud, notes, pages without color & drawings) can be done. Suggestions?Thanks! Carol Ann


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