Kindle DX, Universities – education fiasco

Before we jump into Kindle DX’s rather strange dismissal by 2 universities let’s look at a little contrast -

  • Kindle 2 is for $259. 
  • Kindle DX is for $489.
  • Intel’s specially designed for the blind Intel Reader is $1,499.

We’ll come back to that in a bit.

Why did Wisconsin-Madison and Syracuse Universities decide not to adopt the Kindle DX?

Here are their reasons (via BetaNews) -

Two universities running Kindle DX pilot programs have rejected the device as a potential textbook replacement, citing a poor feature set and the controversial accessibility issues.

Poor Feature Set of the Kindle DX.

This is interesting as there are some areas where Amazon deserve flak i.e.

  1. Limited PDF Support. 
  2. No touch-screen. 
  3. Note taking could be made better.
  4. Navigation could be a bit better.  

There are also some areas where Amazon could do nothing – the state of eInk technology limits what the Kindle DX can do.

  1. Higher quality graphics – just not possible. 
  2. Color and Video – just not possible. 

Universities have a point here. Amazon pushed the Kindle in education initiative at a time when -

  • Neither was Kindle DX the most that can be done with current eInk technology.
  • Nor was eInk technology advanced enough to create a great textbook reader.

Kindle DX 2 or Kindle DX 3 might hit the feature-set and level of technology needed.

However, Amazon had to push the Kindle in education as soon as possible – they took a calculated risk and after this and Princeton’s problems it seems like it didn’t work out.

By pushing the Kindle DX to government funded Universities Amazon also opened itself up to a ridiculous attack i.e.

Lack of Accessibility for the Blind

Look at what Ken Frazier, the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s director of libraries, has to say -

The big disappointment was learning that the Kindle DX is not accessible to the blind.

It is relatively easy to envision an improved e-book reading device that meets the needs of the entire university community.

Such a device would include universal design for accessibility, higher-quality graphics, and improved navigation and note-taking.

I think that there will be a huge payoff for the company that creates a truly universal e-book reader.”

A Truly Universal eBook Reader that includes universal design for accessibility?

That would be Intel’s $1,499 reader for the blind.

  • It is NOT relatively easy to envision an eReader that works for blind people – Intel spent 3 years on it.
  • It is relatively easy to envision that adoption of eReaders makes things better for blind students

What the National Foundation for the Blind are ignoring is the natural progression i.e.

  1. Braille Textbooks (limited range and high prices). 
  2. Textbook Reader that has text for speech and greatly increases number of titles blind students have access to (and at lower prices). 
  3. Very Accessible eReader.

An eReader that is very accessible to blind students is as good as it’s going to get. Hate to break the news to NFB -

A truly accessible universal eReader would be too expensive to be a general device.

Additionally, the decisions you made to make it good for blind students i.e. big feel-able buttons, a camera to take pictures of pages and convert them to text, variable speech speed, etc. would make it a non-ideal eReader in general.

How short-term focused can the National Federation for the Blind be?

Very.

The NFB are trying to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Unfortunately – they are succeeding.

With the Kindle they were suddenly getting a device better suited to students than textbooks, and at a reasonable price.

If NFB thought of it as -

  1. Let’s encourage the growth of eReaders.
  2. Let’s fight for Text To Speech.
  3. As technology improves things will get better for everyone.
  4. Let’s push for additional accessibility and not demand an unrealistic ‘universal, true accessibility’.
  5. In the long run any advances in growth of eReaders and eInk technology increases the chances of better eReaders for blind students.

Then perhaps they wouldn’t be gleeful about this Pyrrhic victory.

Quite frankly, they’re slowing the growth and adoption of eReaders and eBooks with all their attacks and press releases.

What should Amazon and other eReader makers do?

Ignore the NFB. Let some other company help them and suffer their distorted worldview.

The NFB should just buy Intel’s $1,499 eReader.

Here is a laundry list of what NFB want -

  1. Accessible Menus. 
  2. Accessibility for annotations and to advance features.  

However that wouldn’t be enough?

There was a time when blind students would be happy to be given access to a lot more books than were available in Braille (and at lower prices).

As soon as they got accessible menus, NFB would sue and ask for A truly universal eReader (whatever that means).

Narrow-mindedness. That is what this really is – not some grand fight for rights.

NFB would rather shoot down the Kindle in education (and any other eReader that does not have universal accessibility) than look at the bonus for them in the short-term and the long-term.

On Amazon’s side it’s truly sad that eReaders in education get sidetracked for the wrong reasons. It would also help if Amazon didn’t promise to add menu accessibility and then forget to.

Back to School Kindle

Could the Kindle be the big hit this Back to School shopping season?

The Kindle DX is still sold out (2-3 week delays), and Kindle DX university trials haven’t even started yet. However, the Kindle 2 price cut and several other factors make it worthwhile to discuss the Kindle 2 and Kindle DX ‘s prospects.

Back to School Kindle – Reasons this might be the Year

Back to School success for the Kindle is long overdue. People have been talking about Back to School Kindles since Aug 2008 -

After a meeting with Amazon executives, McAdams Wright Ragen analyst Tim Bueneman told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that Amazon sees a big opportunity in marketing the Kindle to college kids, and it’s working on an updated version of the e-reader to accommodate this.

2009 might be the year of the back to school kindle as we have a much better environment -

  1. Price: The $299 Kindle 2 means we finally have a sub $300 kindle.  Amazon does need to add PDF support to the Kindle 2 though.
  2. Content: Amazon has finally tied up with textbook publishers.
  3. Buzz: Even politicians are talking about etextbooks and kindle per backpack.
  4. Tie-Ups: Blackboard has added support for coursework to be sent to Kindles (and its used at 2,200+ educational institutions). Even twitter’s not-so-secret plans talk about using Kindle to expand reach.
  5. Kindle DX: The Kindle DX’s PDF support and larger screen eliminate two of the major obstacles to students trying Kindles. The $489 price is still a huge obstacle.

Back to School Kindle – Reasons this might not be theYear

Back to school kindle might not be a hit because -

  1. Economy: Thanks to the greater depression we expect to see back to school spending drop 7.7% this year. CNN Money write (National Retail Federation survey) - 

    The average family with students in grades kindergarten through high school is expected to spend $548.72 on school supplies, down from $594.24 in 2008, according to the National Retail Federation.

    “There’s not a lot to be excited about,” said George Whalin, president of Retail Management Consultants. “It’s going to be very challenging for retail, for a long time.”

  2. Far from Ideal: Neither the Kindle 2 (lack of PDF support) nor the Kindle DX (too expensive) hit the ‘close-to-ideal’ eReader profile. More on this soon.  
  3. Technology still evolving: No color. High Price. TouchScreen not possible without affecting readability. Page Turns still slow.
  4. Lack of Knowledge: People still don’t have enough information about Kindles and there’s no where they can go and find out i.e. no retail locations.
  5. Lots of negative publicity: The kindle lawsuit is just the newest in a long line of attacks the Kindle has faced. 
  6. Lots of Enemies: Publishers, Authors Guild, anti-DRM people.
  7. Competition: Apple, Google, Plastic Logic, Cheaper eReaders.

 Back to School Kindle – The Wild Card

The big wild-card is -

How much support, and what type of support, will textbook publishers and universities give to Amazon and to the Kindle?

There are two scenarios here -

  1. Scenario 1: Textbook publishers and Universites get scared and throw a spanner in the works. Neither understands what will change, and how quickly, if/when Kindles become common in campuses – so there’s a chance they don’t really commit to the endeavour.
  2. Scenario 2: Textbook publishers and Universities commit fully – they feel they can kill the used textbook market, kill piracy, and help students and they put all their weight behind the Kindle.

If it’s the latter then the Amazon Kindle’s success is all but guaranteed.

My prediction is that the next year is when the Kindle 3 (with PDF support) or perhaps an Apple iReader take over campuses.

This year’s back to school kindle sales will just be a seeding of the idea of ereaders in education.

ebooks 50% of academic sales by 2011?

Springer Science & Business Media are the second largest scientific, technical and medical publisher. They are saying that the Kindle is transforming academic publishing much faster than the consumer market.

FT.com has an article describing Springer’s leaps in academic ebooks. The key snippets include -

Mr Ernst said: “We expect in the next few years that within the STM [scientific, technical and medical] market more than half of our book revenues will come from e-books“.

Although Springer still supplies physical copies, “the demand and use of the content clearly moved towards electronic in the last few years”.

“I believe that the [economic] crisis will accelerate the migration from print to electronic.”

What percentage of Springer’s Sales are ebooks?

Well, they won’t say. They do note that while trade publishers think ebooks in 2009 will be no more than 3% of total sales, for Springer it will be a significant percentage. They’re rather pleased that -

  1. They can cut out the middlemen and sell directly to libraries, hospitals and corporations.
  2. They can push the cost saving potential of ebooks to libraries.

To the point that they’ve made 22,500 books available on the Kindle. It’s interesting that they mention more than half of revenues (and not unit sales). So their prediction is even more ambitious than 50% ebook penetration. 

Academic Segment healthy and growing

John Wiley & Sons reported their results on June 18th, and -

  1. They had a 22% EPS growth and 3.4% revenue growth (if you factor out currency factors).
  2. They say it was a result of strong growth in the Scientific, Technical, Medical and Scholarly (SMTS) and Higher Education (HE) segments.
  3. They are projecting EPS growth of 10% in fiscal year 2010.

The report has a lot of details (such as SMTS revenue being nearly a billion dollars) and is well worth perusing in its entirety.

It certainly seems like academic publishing is doing well, despite the economic downturn and the alleged ‘death of reading’.

The Kindle family, in particular the Kindle DX line, are well placed to cash in on the strength of academic publishing. If  -

  1. Spinger are right about ebooks accounting for 50% of revenues in a few years; and
  2. John Wiley’s strong results and strong growth predictions are echoed by other academic publishers. 

Academic publishing might become one of the two most important markets for the Kindle.

Kindle in Education Study, Articles

We’ve covered the spread of Kindle in Libraries. Let’s look at some educators’ experiences with and thoughts on using the Kindle in Education -

Kindle in Education – Seton Hall Study

Educause has a great write-up on Seton Hall’s experience of integrating the first generation Kindle into classes (do check out the PDF of the Kindle study by Melissa McDowell and Riad S. Twal) -

* outdoor reading seemed to be a major hit with users.
* unlike many programs, training was not necessary because the Kindle is very easy to use.
* 60% said they’d want to use it again in the future. 18.5% said they would not.

Note: This is a study using the Kindle 1. Will point out changes in Kindle 2 and Kindle DX.

Top Kindle in Education Pros (identified by Students) 

  1. 92% loved the portability. Much easier than carrying around books. Probably the biggest pro as it comes up numerous times.
  2. Connectivity and book availability are great. 
  3. Readable in sunlight.
  4. Having multiple books in the Kindle.
  5. Looking up words was a big hit. Note: Kindle 2 has an in-built dictionary that instantly shows definitions on the page itself as a footnote.

Interestingly 74% rated ability to read PDFs as hugely important – something the DX supports natively (although no zoom or highlighting or notes in PDFs).

Top Kindle in Education Cons (via Students)

  1. It takes too long to load and turn pages. Note: kindle 2 is 25% faster – however, still an issue.  
  2. Navigation is exceedingly slow. Note: Navigation is slow even in kindle 2 and kindle dx due to lack of a touchscreen. 
  3. Prefer a real book in my hand.
  4. No pages and can’t see how much more there is left to read.
  5. Page turns accidentally. Note: Solved in Kindle 2 and Kindle DX.
  6. No single file format.

Top Suggestions from Students (in addition to the cons)

  1. Add Page Numbers. 
  2. Better web browsing.  
  3. Ability to write notes. 

Kindle in Education Articles

  1. Colleen O’Connor at the San Diego News Network looks at Gov. Schwarzenegger’s push for digital textbooks through an ereader lens -

    Surely, the Governor can approach these competing eBook vendors and suggest California’s most willing teachers, administrators, school districts, and community colleges, as lab participants for their Education Outreach Programs. The competition, the advertising, the federal tax credits, and all important bragging rights, should bring more than one tech company to the table.

  2. Read Write Web point to a Cambridge University report (jump to page 9 for findings; the cover made me think it was a Doctor Who book) that shows -

    * Students were far more interested in using their cell phones to find out library opening hours (80%) than in getting electronic journal articles (30%).
    *93% of respondents had never read an e-book using their phone.
    *Cellphones are primarily used for calls and texting, although use for mobile browsing is slowly growing.

    Interestingly they conclude that too few people in the academic community are using the Mobile Internet to justify libraries developing mobile websites.

  3. Charles Crowell at Inside Higher Ed (have linked to this before) has an excellent article on the Kindle Factor in Education. Worth a re-read. And really looking forward to his findings during the Fall Kindle trial.

As the Kindle DX trials progress in Universities it’ll be interesting to see what the findings are and what new feature suggestions and feedback get incorporated into the Kindle DX 2.

Kindle in Education – Intro

Charles Crowell, Associate Professor  at Southern Vermont College, has an excellent post up where he reviews the use of the Kindle in Education. There were two things that stood out for me -

  1. He contrasts the Traditional Pedagogy, and Kindle’s impact on the Budget in that situation, with the budgetary and pedagogical impact of an approach built around the Kindle.   
  2. His conclusion was really interesting too -

    The prospects here are compelling. With a little reconsideration of how we use and frame simple educational tools like textbooks, we can not only significantly lower some of the costs of higher education, but also enhance our pedagogical practices and educational outcomes

A series of posts on Using Kindle in Education

Will start writing out a few posts on using the Kindle in education – for educators, and especially for parents.

The critical flaw that critics of the Kindle are making is that they are not considering -

  1. Its a developing technology.  
  2. Its going up against the status quo.

Instead of looking at what the Kindle could do for education if given the chance (as Prof. Crowell is doing in his article) people are asking why the Kindle isn’t a perfect solution already.

Kindle in Education – Bigger in Schools than Colleges

One of the biggest potential uses of the Kindle in education is in schools. While people focus on colleges, because of the costs of college textbooks, the opportunity is bigger for school children -

  1. Kindles can inculcate a habit of reading at a young age.
  2. Younger children have not had reading drummed out of their system by a decade plus of MTV and other distractions.
  3. The physical benefits of not having to drag around 30 pounds of textbooks is much more so for younger kids. 

The much bigger opportunity is with younger children. Anyone who’s done any teaching or coaching or managing knows that unlearning bad habits is a far bigger challenge than teaching good habits. So – teach your kids to read and learn at a young age instead of waiting till college, and then trying to get them to change their bad habits.

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