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.

Kindles for students, 30K WSJ Kindle subscribers

Kindle in Education 

Electronic Readers in Education are back in fashion.

Penn-Trafford district of Pittsburgh will order nearly 100 Kindles. As opposed to college students, the high school kids love the Kindles –

“It has everything,” said junior Jake Hohn, 16. “You can look up different books. If you want to search for something on Google, you can do that, too.”

Kimberly Reevers, 15, a freshman, said she likes the convenience.

“It’s just one thing to hold, and you don’t have to keep flipping pages, and it keeps track of where you’ve left off,” she said.

The Kindles will be used in the school’s READ 180 classes – a course for readers who are struggling with reading.  The changeable fonts should really help students as should the Text to Speech –

Daniels said the Kindles will give her more teaching options.

“If we’re doing a novel that’s not at their reading level, they could plug-in and listen to it,” she said.

In North Branford, Connecticut, School Superintendent Scott Schoonmaker is trying to figure out if the school can work kindles into the school budget

The devices are more cost-effective than buying and replacing textbooks every year. Schoonmaker said on average, it costs about $200 to $800 a year per student to buy, update and refurbish textbooks.

Schoonmaker said, “When you start doing the math — replacement costs, lost textbooks — it can grow exceptionally.”  

However, with tight school budgets, Schoonmaker said it’s a tough sell. To make it more cost-effective, he is trying to work a deal with Amazon.

Kudos for trying out the plan and even more for trying to get Amazon to help.

Wall Street Journal has 30,000 Subscribers of its Kindle Edition

Last year we found out that the New York Times had 10,000 Kindle subscribers.

Today we find out that the Wall Street Journal has roughly 30,000 Kindle subscribers –

Roughly 30,000 users subscribe the Wall Street Journal Kindle Edition, Dow Jones head Les Hinton told the Paley Center conference Rafat is attending this morning—great for a “primitive device.”

Paid Content has some speculation and broke the news.

$57 million investment in textbook start-up

The Kindle is not the only thing that’s hot in education – textbook rental companies are too – to the tune of $57 million. 

Textbook rental service Chegg raised $57 million in Venture Capital. Chegg are loading up for something big –

In addition to the $57 million in new venture funding, said it also secured a $25 million credit facility from its syndicate of venture partners, as well as recently securing a $30 million debt facility from venture debt providers Pinnacle Ventures and TriplePoint Capital.

That’s $112 million in all. $112 million for a company that rents textbooks – That just illustrates how inefficient the current model is.

On a related note, TeleRead point us to a trial of textbook business models in the UK –

Eight leading textbook publishers, three e-book aggregator and ten universities are working together to test a range of business models for e-textbooks.

The overall objective of the trials is to identify realistic and sustainable e-textbook business models

Perhaps they should ask Chegg to help them out.

eReader News

  1. Google Books Settlement hearing has been set for February 18th, 2010.
  2. Margie Boule has a beautiful article on handling the guilt of leaving books for the Kindle (which she does remarkably well – hardcover christmas gifts and non-Kindle book purchases).
  3. Ronald Burke wants to get his hands on Barnes & Noble’s nook and his rapid purchase of B&N stock has scared the Board into adopting a poison pill. WSJ has a good article. Mr. Burke’s firm has (after purchasing shares) expressed their concern over B&N’s purchase of B&N College BookStores and that definitely indicates hostile intentions.
  4. SlashGear says that the Qualcomm color eReader might have an add-on game controller. Basically Qualcomm want to stress that the screen technology is not just for eReaders.
  5. Someone at Sony (probably) ‘reviews’ the Daily Edition – the same one that can’t make the eReader Christmas Party. [youtube=]
  6. Sony launch their answer to iTunes – it includes music, movies, books and apps.
  7. Time and Conde Nast are already prepping their sites for the new Apple Tablet. Meanwhile rumors suggest that it’s been delayed from March 2010 to 2nd half of 2010.
  8. Network World has 8 reasons eReaders could fail. They’re not bad reasons.  
  9. DigiTimes reports that BenQ (yes, that BenQ) is launching its eReader, called the nReader, in 2010 along with an online ebook trading platform. It’ll be in Taiwan to begin with and then Japan and China.

    BenQ aims to sell 50,000 nReaders in Taiwan and 300,000 units globally in 2010, according to company vice chairman Jerry Wang

    The nReader features a 6-inch touchscreen EPD (electrophoretic display) panel from SiPix, and supports PDF and ePub. BenQ added that it plans to offer color e-book readers in the second half of 2010.

Rather interesting that BenQ expect to have color eReaders out by end 2010 – Has SiPix overtaken eInk?

News related News

  1. Both TechMeme and Google News released Mobile products. Google News for Mobile is available in 29 languages and 70 editions.
  2. Rupert Murdoch talks about how moving to electronic newspapers saves money while James Murdoch talks about how News Corp is looking more to TV.

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?


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.