When Amazon released the Kindle a couple of years ago, it generated lots of talk about it (or something like it) being the future of educational printed materials.
Since then, some colleges have been testing the use of the Kindle DX, the larger, more book-sized version, to replace analog textbooks for some of their classes.
One of those schools, Princeton, just released some data about their pilot and most of those participating found the results to be somewhat disappointing.
But in spite of the cost savings, some students and professors said they found the technology limiting.
The Kindle, a handheld, electronic device manufactured by amazon.com, allows users to store, read, highlight and annotate books and other documents using its display screen.
Notice what’s missing from that list? There’s no way for students and faculty to edit or add to the content on their devices so that other members of the community can see it.
In other words, there’s nothing new about these textbooks other than the format by which the information is delivered. Same old material, still controlled by the publisher, with no options for students to interact with it.
Of course, based on the comments of some of the teachers involved, interactivity really wasn’t an issue anyway.
Wilson School professor Stan Katz, who taught WWS 325 this fall, said he also found the device ill-suited for his course.
“I found it disappointing for use in class because I emphasize close work with the text, and that ideally requires students to mark up the text quite a bit,” Katz said. “Though it doesn’t prevent highlighting, the annotation function is difficult to use, and the keyboard is very small,” he added.
But Wilson School professor Daniel Kurtzer, who taught WWS 555A, said he found the Kindle conducive to the format of his class because it consisted of “very traditional reading.”
And likely, very traditional teaching.
However, to me the how digital books are being used at Princeton wasn’t the worst part of this story.
Students in WWS 325: Civil Society and Public Policy, who were given Kindles, printed an average of 762 pages, compared to the roughly 1,373 pages printed in past years, a 55 percent difference in paper use.
Kindle owners in WWS 555A: U.S. Policy and Diplomacy in the Middle East printed an average of 962 pages, while those without the e-readers printed an average of 1,826 pages, a 53 percent difference.
Why is anyone with an electronic book printing pages from their digital materials at all?
Maybe a few sheets, but 962 pages is likely very close to the size of the original analog college textbook those students used to pay a small fortune for (and are probably still paying for the Kindle version).
So anyway, the bottom line in all this is that teachers and students at Princeton are using a portable, connected digital device in almost exactly the same way they used the also-portable, unconnected analog versions it replaced.
Image of the Kindle DX from the Wikimedia Commons and is used under a Creative Commons license.