Tag Archive for reed

Visiting Reed

Four of us spent the morning at Reed College, asking questions to CTO Marty Ringle and members of the Computing and Information Services department. In my career, I had never previously spent an extended period of time with college-level IT staff. The differences were striking. The college has 140 faculty members and 300 staff, the reverse ratio of our school. These 440 employees serve just 1400 students. Our 200 employees serve 730 students. Reed Computing has 32 employees. We have six. One possible conclusion: employees require a lot more IT support than students!

I was really impressed with the department’s governance process. They have seven different organizational groups that meet regularly to facilitate the process of democratic decision-making. Top-down decision-making is rare. We may bemoan the number of meetings we already have, but I left Reed thinking that we need to have more—we just need to structure them better. Our hosts also spoke to the benefits of meeting regularly with faculty members, individually or at “brown bag” lunches, building trust and familiarity that pay dividends later.

We also left feeling good about the program we run at Catlin Gabel. We have reached an enterprise level of service with our help desk, wireless security, intranet website, deployment, and other services. It is always refreshing to gain an external perspective on our program. Spending too much time at our own school sometimes leads to myopia.

I learned about the Collaborative Moodle Liberal Arts Project. Reed is one of a number of colleges working together to improve aspects of Moodle particular to needs they share. While the improvements look useful (bulk assignment downloads, better gradebook), I was disappointed that none of them pertain specifically to online learning environments.

Marty summarized the new report on Reed’s Kindle project. Their experience confirmed our initial reaction that the Kindle and similar devices are not yet ready for education enterprise deployment. The annotation, highlighting, and navigation features do not yet replicate enough of the features of writing in the margins of a book with a pen.

I’d also like an assistant and a conference table in my office!

Providing a Kindle to families

We recently made a Kindle device available to families to borrow and try, in case they were curious about the device. Our cross-departmental technology committee evaluated the device and did not find a compelling reason to consider widespread adoption of the Kindle or other electronic reader devices. We will certainly continue to watch this product niche in the future.

Some Kindle features

The Kindle and other e-readers use a new kind of screen called “digital ink.” As opposed to conventional display screens, digital ink screens do not use a backlight. The screen is easier on the eyes than a laptop screen and remains visible in bright daylight. Because the Kindle is not backlit you can’t use it in the dark without an additional light source.

The Kindle does a good job increasing text size, changing screen direction, and altering the number of words displayed per line.

The Kindle can store up to 1,500 books at one time. It can display documents in the Amazon, Word document, HTML,  text, and PDF formats. It can also play MP3 and Audible files. Some file formats require conversion through Amazon’s email system.

The Kindle can read the text on the screen aloud but it does so poorly and really isn’t useful as a text-to-speech tool.

The Kindle includes some bookmarking and annotation features.

Note taking was difficult. It was uncomfortable to use the small keyboard to add text.

The battery lasts a long time—up to two weeks if you don’t make extensive use of the wireless browsing capabilities.

The Kindle includes a web browser and wireless connectivity that uses the same 3G network used by cell phones. There is no charge for the wireless connectivity at this time. The Kindle must be registered in order to use the wireless capabilties.

Books sold by Amazon for the Kindle are sold in a proprietary format that can only be read using Amazon software. Currently, that software is available for the Kindle, Apple’s iPhone, and Microsoft Windows. Amazon is working on software to read Kindle format books on Mac OSX and Blackberries.

Once you register your Kindle device with Amazon, you may purchase additional texts with one click. This could be a liability if you lend your device to someone else.

Some colleges, including Reed, have experimented with using these devices in their instructional program. We do not yet know whether these colleges are planning large-scale adoption. Read about Reed’s experiment.

Other e-readers include the Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony eReader. Reviewers suggest that they each have their pros and cons.

The Kindle may prove useful to students who seek the convenience of an e-reader or benefit from the additional features such as changing text size. These devices are an example of an emerging technology, and we will watch their capabilities as the technology matures.