Kindle in Education – an entire high school gets Kindle 3s

With the Kindle 3 now at $189 and the Kindle WiFi at $139 it becomes much easier to promote the Kindle as a viable alternative to paper textbooks.

There have been a few half-hearted attempts in the past and Governor Schwarzenegger and other people have suggested using Kindles in schools – However, we now have the first full-scale roll-out of Kindles in a school.

2,100 Clearwater High School students get the Kindle 3

As a pilot for the Pinellas County school system all 2,100 students at Clearwater High School in Clearwater, Florida got a Kindle 3. A lot of credit to the principal Keith Mastorides for making it happen. Here’s a snippet from the St. Petersburg Times -

When the idea was first proffered by principal Keith Mastorides last year, some students were skeptical it would actually happen.

“Especially not this school,” said senior Matt Jonson, 17.

“Maybe a nicer school,” added Adams.

Voices such as these are part of the reason Mastorides said he pushed to make the project a reality — to give students a more level playing field and prepare them for a more networked world.

There are a few reasons this is a great move and much better than the college trials -

  1. The entire high school got them – not just 50 or 100 students. You get to see the impact on students in various grades and we can study the impact over a period of years.
  2. It makes a lot more sense to get Kindles to students when they’re young and haven’t already given up on reading.
  3. It makes sense to give everyone a chance early – students with dyslexia or reading problems will benefit much more in high school or middle school than in college. They probably might not even make it to college.
  4. There are far fewer distractions in high school than in college and there’s a much higher chance students will read their textbooks and read in general. 
  5. From the students’ responses it’s clear that these high school students are approaching the Kindle with a very refreshing attitude. 

Let’s start by looking at the benefits Kindle 3 provides to students.

Kindle 3 benefits for students

All of these Kindle 3 benefits are culled from the various articles written about the Kindle high school trial. The definite benefits -

  1. No more heavy backpacks.
  2. It gets students excited about reading and schoolwork – Multiple students mention this aspect. Here’s a comment from one of the students, Desmond King, -

    “It’s fun to have electronics to learn,”

    “I think it makes us want to study more without realizing it.”

  3. Students get the books required for their coursework pre-loaded on their Kindle. At least some of them do.
  4. There’s an in-built dictionary so students can get word meanings instantly.  
  5. Students are loving the text to speech capability. That feature also really helps auditory learners (thanks to FLGRLinATL for that point).
  6. There’s not really much of a learning curve.
  7. The English Department managed to afford all the books on its wishlist -

    John Just, Pinellas County’s assistant superintendent for management information systems, said that because of savings on books, the school’s English department’s wish list was completely fulfilled.

    “The English department wish list is always that — a wish list,” Just said. “Now they’re all downloaded.”

  8. A lot of the recommended reading titles are in the public domain and thus free.
  9. Long Battery life and quick recharging.
  10. eTextbooks are cheaper than physical textbooks. The claims are 10% less for textbooks and 40% less for novels. That 10% number is depressing – there ought to be far greater savings.
  11. It’s light – The articles say 10 ounces but it’s just 8.7 ounces.
  12. Free 3G Internet means students can check things on the Internet without going to the library or to their PC (if they have one at home). 20% of students don’t have Internet access at home so it really helps.

It reminds me of a study that pointed out that most of the separation between kids from high-income families and kids from low-income families happened during the holidays and when students were outside of school. With the Kindle 3 students get a better shot at continuing to read and study outside of school.

Here are some more potential benefits -

  1. Students read more. Reading more leads to smarter students.
  2. Textbook purchases become more cost-effective. Note that we mentioned one case (English) where this has already happened. The price difference between textbooks and etextbooks will increase over time as Textbook Publishers’ monopoly gradually disintegrates.  
  3. It helps level the playing field. If your school is giving you a Kindle and you have access to millions of free public domain books that’s a lot better than not having money to buy books.

Sources used for compiling these lists include WTSP’s article about the Kindle 3 high school trial and the other two articles linked to in this post.

Fighting off Expensive Textbooks

Here’s a comment from Bucnright talking about textbook prices -

The average math text book in Pasco was $63. each high school student averages 6-7 text books which can also be damage or misplaced. Thats is $378 given to a student every year.

The kindle can stay with the student and update with subjects.

On the surface it seems like a $139 Kindle WiFi or a $189 Kindle 3 is expensive – However, textbooks really add up.

Here’s a comment from a college student (EquinsuOcha) -

Why can’t colleges like mine (Eckerd) embrace the same technology?

I pay $120 for a text book that is out of date by the time the next semester rolls around, and is completely useless within a year.

Textbook prices really are a big problem. Get enough students a Kindle and textbook publishers’ hold over distribution gets destroyed.

Note-taking isn’t a problem – It’s just like texting

Here’s an example of high school students having great attitude -

“It’s just like texting,” said senior Gabrielle Adams, 17, about inputting notes.

“And everybody knows how to text,” Niles said.

Whether the students end up liking the eReaders or not we at least know they are going in with an open mind.

Contrast that with college students in the Kindle trials who were complaining about not being able to scribble in the margins. The expectation level when you run a Kindle trial in Princeton is completely different and in some ways it defeats the purpose – With college students you get students who are already in college and usually quite privileged.

One of the strange things was multiple mentions of being able to add notes on the Kindle. Perhaps students are currently getting textbooks from the school that they aren’t allowed to make notes in. Here’s a snippet from MyFox Tamba Bay’s coverage of Kindles for students at Clearwater High School -

“It’s a lot lighter, it’s easier to read, and you can make notes, which you can’t do in a regular textbook,” Bennie Miles observed. “I think that’s pretty cool.”

It’s good to see a lot of enthusiasm. With the college trials you had students voicing a lot of concerns. At some level they were comparing eReaders against notebook computers even before starting.

These high school students are very positive and hopefully that translates into them benefitting a lot from their Kindles.

Student Insurance Policy

This was interesting – For a $20 or $25 fee students can insure their Kindle 3. If they lose it they pay a $50 deductible and get a Kindle 3. If they lose the new Kindle too then they have to buy a new one themselves or go back to textbooks.

That insurance policy sounds a lot better than anything available commercially – at least that’s my understanding.

Quick Note on Price

At $177.78 per Kindle 3 and with free 3G Internet included the only eReader that comes close is the Nook. Even Nook doesn’t have free Internet. Free Internet is a factor because students can refer to the Internet right from class and 20% of them don’t have Internet at home.

The Sony 650 at $225 is 26% more expensive and doesn’t have text to speech or good ebook prices.

The iPad at $499 is way too expensive. There will definitely be a few people claiming the iPad would be much better. Well, before we can have that argument we need to have an affordability argument and the iPad loses that badly.

Downsides of the Clearwater High School Kindle 3 trial

Well, there are obviously people who are coming up with a laundry list of negatives (it wouldn’t be very Kindle like if there weren’t super negative people attacking it) -

  1. Kindles will break far more easily than books which are pretty much unbreakable.  
  2. The insurance is a cost.  
  3. You can’t read books from non-Amazon sources unless they are DRM free.
  4. A lot of people claimed that the Kindle college trials failed – That’s not exactly correct. The overzealous National Federation for the Blind had them shut down because the Kindles weren’t accessible.  
  5. You can’t scribble in the margins. Would be good to know whether students were allowed to do this in the textbooks they got from their schools.
  6. The cost – supposedly $177.66 each.

The list isn’t very long because most of the negative people have never seen a Kindle. In contrast to the students who are very positive there are quite a few negative comments from people at the St. Petersburg Times site.

This comment from a Clearwater High School student (kread96) is super appropriate -

Ok now everyone needs to stop, saying stuff about the Kindle’s !

because you know nothing about them! yes i go to CHS, and I have one.

They are so much easier than text books. Cheaper too. Dont say anything about them, until you have actually used them….

It’s infinitely amusing that, yet again, we have people criticizing the Kindle 3 without ever having used one. Ever since the first Kindle came out the biggest detractors have always been people who’ve never used a Kindle.

Democrats – Kindle in Every Backpack

NYTimes is reporting that some Democrats have huge plans for the Kindle -

A Kindle in Every Backpack: A Proposal for eTextbooks in American Schools,” by the Democratic Leadership Council, a left-leaning think tank, was published on the group’s Web site Tuesday

You can also peruse the document in Kindle format (its just 8 PDF pages). Its written by Thomas Z. Freedman.

Are the Democrats really proposing a Kindle per schoolchild?

Yes. And they want to do it now -

 We shouldn’t wait a decade to begin to achieve what is inevitable - an education system where each American schoolchild has an eTextbook, like Amazon’s Kindle …
loaded with the most up-to-date and interactive teaching materials and texts available.

Its a well written plan and argues the case for an eTextbook System in 3 sections -

  1. Section 1: eTextbooks are better than textbooks because of cheap, easy updates, health benefits to school kids, and environmental benefits. They can also be made exciting and interactive.
  2. Section 2: Over time, an investment in an etextbook infrastructure would create big savings. 
  3. Section 3: How to implement an eTextbook Plan and why there would be support.

What are the big points the Kindle per Schoolchild plan is making?

Here are the big ones -

  1. A Kindle Textbook can be  updated instantly and universally.
  2. A Kindle Textbook allow for flexibility and customization. 
  3. Kindle Textbooks can be integrated into classroom learning better than traditional textbooks.  
  4. Easing the burden on school-children – literally. They quote some college health studies -

    Boston University researchers found back pain or discomfortafflicts an overwhelming 85 percent of college students using backpacks … 

    And according to a 2007 survey administered by the National College Health Assessment, students at Minnesota State reported back pain as the most widespread health problem.

  5. They want to get a Kindle to each of the 56 million K-12 school children in the US.
  6. The US spends $109 per student for traditional textbooks and $6 billion annually.
  7. They do talk about competition and the benefits of it -

    Costs could decrease even faster as more companies promote Kindle-like products in the market …
    competitive devices are currently being released with price tags $110 less than the Kindle

  8. $9 billion more costs in the first 4 years (this right here might just kill the proposal).
  9. Savings kick in in the 5th year – starting at $700 million in the 5th year and then $500 million annually after that.
  10. They talk about a pilot program with under 400,000 students. That’d be a thousand times bigger than any other eReader pilot program.  

My Thoughts – Kindle in Every Backpack is unlikely to Work

  1. The proposal doesn’t seem to point out that it would take 18 years to make back the $9 billion invested in the first 4 years.  
  2. Gov. Schwarzenegger had left out Kindles entirely and just suggested eTextbooks. This is the first plan to specifically suggest Kindles.
  3. For some strange reason the first end-note is from the Colbert Report. Way to show your seriousness.
  4. Wonder what textbook publishers think about the ‘price reductions’ in etextbooks proposed.  

In the unlikely case that this measure gets approved, Amazon and the Kindle would be set for life.

58 million K-12 students getting Kindles is a scary, scary thought.

Kindle helping kids read more

Here’s a great story from the Kindle Forums on how the Kindle (or for that matter any good electronic reader) can really help kids with reading -

                   I have to just shout I am so excited and wanted to share. I am the mother of 2 teenage girls…14 and 13. The 13 year old has always loved to read but my 14 year old hated reading. She has never picked up a book to actually read for pleasure…Not even Twilight…

                 This has always bothered me, she struggles so much in school because she really has a hard time reading. We have tried many things and several approaches but they never seemed to help. W ehave even been to the eye doctor! Anyway, today she picks up the Kindle 2 and starts to read. I started explaining things to her and she was having a hard time so I increased the font size.

                          She really liked that and asked for the book Marked by P.C. & Kristen Cast so I downloaded it. She hasn’t put the Kindle down since! After hours of reading I asked what the difference was between the regular book and the kindle, she said she would get very overwhelmed by all the words and the size of the book which would make it difficult for her to stay focused.

                          For whatever reason putting the font size up one notch has done the trick! I know it seems trivial but it is a HUGE victory for us…..for her. She is actually excited about reading and is already picking out another series to read! I guess we will have to be getting another kindle!

Why isn’t Amazon pushing this more?

  1. School children read a lot, they read for 12 years of their life, and they don’t really have a choice i.e. they must read for school.  
  2. The earlier you get kids reading the better for their education.  
  3. The more kids read the bigger their advantage in school, and in effect for the rest of their lives.
  4. There are numerous examples like the one above – people talking about how the Kindle got their kid into reading.

There’s some very good discussion about KIPP in the Outliers book by Malcolm Gladwell – it discusses the importance of out of school reading to maintain learning in school.

Also, a good blog to check out that focuses specifically on using the kindle with kids.

Finally, a list of Kindle books for kids. In the links on the right column there are more lists specifically about kindle books for kids.

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