Reed College Kindle Report

Reed College has published a report on the Kindle pilot project they undertook this year. The study reports that e-readers are useful in many ways but have too many shortcomings to be a standard device at this time. Especially weak were annotation and bookmarking capabilities. My favorite line:

When students were asked if they would purchase a Kindle DX (or
other dedicated eReader) for academic use, they indicated that the price would need to drop
dramatically –– to less than $100 –– in order for them to seriously consider purchasing one.

I appreciate the perspective and thoroughness of a study such as this. It helps cut through the rhetoric about new hardware “changing” education and properly define the time frame for meaningful change as years.

3 comments

  1. The report is interesting, but the tone of the report is strange. It’s very non-committal. So much so, it’s unclear why the test was done to begin with.

    In brief, they were interested in

    • to evaluate the features of this particular platform
    • to identify impacts of the Kindle DX on teaching and learning activities
    • to assess the overall prospects of eReaders in higher education

    Maybe they could have been more clear about what the hypothesis was before the pilot was done; i.e., what was the promise and possible bargain of using these devices.

    As Clay Shirky notes, most projects like this all revolve around “Promise, Tool, Bargain.” In this review, it seemed all about the tool, and it’s possible impact, but obviously their were imagined promises and bargains as part of the equation. Each can have a separate positive/negative impact.

  2. admin says:

    Interesting, Jim. I didn’t really read the report that way. I found the tone typical of university-level publications and a refreshing contrast from the overly enthusiastic tone of a lot of education technology writing. In terms of the message, I thought it pretty much slams the Kindle for limited usability in a college setting.

    The main Kindle project page clearly articulates the hypotheses that they tested:

    Potential long-term benefits of e-book technology we hope to explore include: (a) the ability for students to have immediate, searchable access to all their course materials in one, lightweight device; (b) a reduction in the total cost of course materials; (c) a reduction in the use of paper; (d) opportunities for faculty and students to share electronic comments on course materials; and (e) integration of e-book technology with other curricular tools such as Moodle (Reed’s open source learning management system).

  3. Hi, Richard

    Overall, I didn’t read the main project page, but only the report. I believe the report could have been more effective if it included the five objectives you quoted from the project page, and then evaluated the success/neutral/failure of the attempts.

    As I read the report:

    Objective a: limited by immediate access to materials because of distribution and format limits

    b: unclear if cost savings were achieved

    c: sounds like paper use was reduced

    d: comment sharing not achieved because of format (pdf means no annotation) and interface limits (hard to annotate using kindle keyboard and controller keys).

    e: unclear if Moodle was useful in content distribution and comment sharing– sounds that they would have preferred to use the integrated Whispernet technology than Moodle to PC to Kindle via USB cable.

    After covering the pros/cons of the original five objectives, then the unexpected benefits/problems could have been reviewed, especially the content comprehension issues (and their intersection with the annotating issues), and the multi-window switching issue.

    I’m not really a fan or critic of Kindles, but it would be important to find out what is really valued and needed in education– perhaps the annotation and commenting and multi-windows is more important than expected. A reading for pleasure device may not be the right fit.