Kindle's role in Education

It’s worth looking at the role the Kindle can play in education.

As opposed to the Kindle DX university trials, this post is focused on education in schools, and hopefully Amazon changes its focus too. 

  • College is too late to inculcate a love of reading .
  • It’s way too late to fight multi-purpose devices, television and other pastimes that have already decimated attention spans.
  • College students are already used to other paradigms i.e. PCs and iPhones.

My suspicion is that if it weren’t for the lucrative college textbook market Amazon would choose schools over colleges. 

Reality is – even the college textbook market should not be enough motivation for eReaders companies to focus on a high risk, low chance of success market like college education. 

The much better, bigger opportunity is in schools.

People can already see that Kindle has a big role to play in Education

Here’s Paul Allen (not the billionaire) writing about how the Kindle could dramatically improve US education –

I think that reading the right books is the best way to get a great education.

To salvage the failing US education system we should do whatever it takes to get millions of kids reading great books once again.

I think the best way to do that would be for states to purchase Kindles for every student (I’d say 7th-12th grade) in their education system, and to provide great age appropriate books for these students every year

Couldn’t agree more. Paul also points out that the cost of a Kindle and books isn’t huge –

My home state is Utah. I think Utah pays about $65-70,000 for a K-12 education for each student.

The cost of a Kindle with hundreds of the best books ever written in a variety of fields (with a decent percentage of them being in the public domain, and therefore free, or nearly free) would be miniscule compared to this

Finally he talks about the danger of multi-purpose devices –

If the Kindle ever becomes a multi-purpose portable computing device, with downloadable games and other applications, it would in my mind destroy its potential to become the educational device of the future

It’s not just intelligent people – intelligent teachers are getting it too.

Scholastic and teachers ponder Kindle’s Role in Education

There’s an excellent article at the Scholastic website – Will the Kindle Change Education? (via MobileRead)

Thankfully it finds a ton of teachers and gets their thoughts.

Indiana social studies teacher Chris Edwards thinks Kindle might have a place in student backpacks –

“I see it as an update, not simply of the book, but of the library,” says Edwards, …

… has a set of five Kindles in his classroom at Fishers High School, in Fishers, Indiana.

The emergence of the Kindle and the Sony Reader are changing educators’ views on printed textbooks.

Some, like Daniel Witz, a language arts teacher, already think the Kindle is the future –

“For the longest time, distribution of reading materials has been highly inefficient in getting the right material to the right student at the right moment,”

Students provided with Kindles, which can hold some 1,500 digital books, can simply download the copies they need, without burdening a school’s media center, Witz says.

Then we get a discussion of the benefit that Kindle’s Read To Me Text to Speech feature provides –

“Research is saying audio books promote [reading] fluency,”

– says Chastity Pick, a computer lab teacher in Fairbury, Illinois, who says the Kindle’s audio function could be invaluable for special-needs students,

“kids who need to hear as much as see.”

Let’s pull it all together and create two lists.

Kindle in Education – Pros and Cons

Kindle in Education Pros

  1. It gets kids to read more. 
  2. It helps inculcate a love of reading – hence the need to do it early.
  3. There are no distractions i.e. laptops, iPhones, etc. have lots of games and other distractions. 
  4. Cost of a Kindle isn’t huge when you consider what schools spend per student. 
  5. It cuts the price of books.
  6. It increases portability and cuts down the weight of backpacks.
  7. Text to Speech feature is great for kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.  
  8. It makes things convenient.
  9. It blends into the background.
  10. Free Internet and Free Wikipedia.

Kindle in Education Cons 

Some of these can be interpreted as feature requests.

  1. The breakable screen. This is a big concern when considering school children.
  2. Doesn’t have an output to transmit screen to projectors and computers. This is an education specific drawback.
  3. The limitation of 6 Kindles on 1 account. Not a drawback in my opinion but teachers feel this is a con.
  4. The proprietary format.
  5. Not enough personalization of learning.
  6. The biggest immediate hurdle is the $259 cost.

One additional drawback has become clear in the Kindle DX University trials.

The case for a reader plus writing tablet

One big piece of functionality that goes with reading without becoming a distraction is writing.

  1. The ability to add notes to a book.
  2. The ability to take notes.
  3. An in-built journal.

Writing is the perfect complement to reading, especially for school children, and we are not that far away in terms of eInk technology.

What does the future hold? Will Kindle play a big role in education?

The Kindle has been evolving rapidly – both device and service. In the last couple months we’ve seen a price drop, PDF support, screen rotation, the Kindle going international and other improvements.

The next big jump for the Kindle, in terms of it becoming a great tool for education, is the evolution of eInk –

  1. We need flexible, unbreakable screens.
  2. We need support for writing and taking notes.

In addition to those two technological jumps there are two things Amazon (or another eReader company) ought to work in –

  1. A device focused on school children. Built from the ground-up with student needs in mind.  
  2. Full blown paper notebook functionality i.e. the Kindle with a journal, notebooks, note-taking and scribbling.

Education is the biggest possible market and school children are the most open-minded customers possible. It’s about time Amazon got out a Kindle for school children.

4 thoughts on “Kindle's role in Education”

  1. How is using a Kindle a better solution than using a library? School libraries are now tied to the public library system, and you can get any title within 3 days. I have a hard time seeing how electronic version of books is suddenly going to inculcate a desire to read. The ability to educate via good books has been around for ages, and if it isn’t being used now, why would a Kindle change all that? I don’t think I would be more excited to read “The Count of Monte Cristo” just because it was available on my Kindle.

    I don’t know what creates the desire to read, but I know what DOESN’T create the desire to read: the medium by which one can read.

    Sure, a few more people might enjoy ebooks better, and they may have some advantages, but as long as we admit the fundamental problem being the lack of desire to read, then I fail to see how a Kindle is going to solve this problem.

    1. Tony – it’s about the ease of doing things.

      Kindle is not just a medium/device/way to read something, it’s also a service that delives books in 60 seconds, adds Internet reference and an in-built dictionary, and lots of other features that support reading.

      Kindle would be complementary to libraries. I’m sure the first comment about thinking of the Kindle as a (mobile) library doesn’t mean replacing libraries.

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