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Tag: kindle

It’s a Simple Request

Although in the past I’ve had plenty of concerns about ebooks sold by Amazon and others, I’m now hooked on them and will likely not be buying paper versions anymore.

From day 1, reading materials on my iPad has been a great experience, and I’m increasingly avoiding paper and using it for quick access to all kinds of files, work-related or not.

But up until a few weeks ago I’d only bought one commercial title from an online book store (mostly out of curiosity), despite downloading dozens of sample chapters.

So what changed?

Someone created a dirt simple way* to remove the DRM from Kindle and other ebook formats.

It’s not that I was holding out so I can post copies on the torrents or start selling them out of the back of my virtual car.

I simply want to be able to easily give a book to a friend when I’m finished with it, or loan it to a family member.

The same ability, the same rights, I’ve always had when it comes to items that I purchase for my non-digital library, including video and audio.

I’m not asking for much, am I?

* The link goes to a Mac-only solution. A slightly less dirt simple method for Windows users is here.  And no one seems to have created a way to remove DRM from files sold in Apple’s iBook store so they will still be getting none of my business.

Why Bother?

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.

Why bother?

Image of the Kindle DX from the Wikimedia Commons and is used under a Creative Commons license.

Will the Kindle Change Education?

An article in the most recent issue of Scholastic Administrator asks that question.

The short answer is no. At least not that particular device.

Certainly highly portable, connected devices are making their way into the classroom, somewhat slowly since most are smuggled in by way of student pockets and backpack.

And, hopefully, they will be one of the catalysts that will force schools to alter their teacher-as-giver-of-knowledge approach to education.

However, the big problem with the Kindle being that device is the way it’s built around a “business model” rather than an educational one, namely the one-way model of the current publishing industry: we print, you buy.

For the most part, placing content on the device is controlled by the publishers, complete with DRM to “protect” their files. Users cannot excerpt or edit the material, and forget about loaning, giving, or selling a file to someone else.

I know it’s become much simpler to put text and pdf files on the Kindle but that’s not enough for a unit that’s supposed to change education.

The devices that will truly change education will be those that make it easy to access information from anywhere at any time, combined with a wealth of open source materials that can be used and modified by anyone, student or teacher.

Devices that make it seamless to work with more than text – audio, video, interactive graphics, access to learning communities – anything that can be used to understand, clarify, revise and build on the knowledge available.

Maybe the Kindle is a step in the right direction (I’m not convinced it is) but the writer of this article is far more optimistic about Amazon’s digital reader than he should be.

A Potentially Dismal Future

Not too long ago Amazon released the Kindle DX, a larger version of their e-book reader and the notices were pretty good with many of the reviewers speculating that this device could be the future of textbooks.

If that true then the future of education is pretty bleak.

The Kindle itself is an interesting piece technology that by all reports is excellent at it’s job. However, that job is to deliver content that is controlled by and makes money for the publisher.

That’s not an evolution of instructional materials. Hardly a revolution. It’s a very small shift in the current textbook distribution business.

Between the digital “rights” management (DRM)* that comes with the books and being chained to one source (ie. the publishers willing to work with Amazon), this “future textbook” does little more than solidify the hold of a few giant publishers.

Instead we should be developing open source textbooks created and edited by large numbers of experts of all kinds (teachers and students included) and which anyone, anywhere in the world, in a formal school setting or not, could access.

In addition to editable text, online “textbooks” (is that even a valid term anymore?) could include still images, audio, video, and animation from a variety of sources, all of which present the information using a variety of learning styles.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of very tentative experiments such as Algebra in Connecticut and HS science in Virginia. Even the governator of California wants to try it, although primarily as a way for the state to save money, not because he’s necessarily a fan of user-edited educational materials.

It’s certainly going to take the backing of some 800 pound consumers like California (or maybe a certainly overly-large school district?) if the concept of open source texts are ever going to gain any traction.

But the bottom line to all this is that moving publisher-controlled, DRM-locked printed textbooks into a digital form accessible only on proprietary portable devices is no step into the future.

It chains us to the past.

Update (6/14): Today in his blog, Seth Godin, über marketing guru, agrees with me (although I doubt he actually read my rant :-) and offers his own ideas on why the textbook industry needs to die. He even goes so far as to accuse professors who continue to require them of “academic malpractice”.

* EFF explains why DRM on e-books will fail.

Can I Have a Kindle Instead?

Can this really be true?

Not that it’s anything we think the New York Times Company should do, but we thought it was worth pointing out that it costs the Times about twice as much money to print and deliver the newspaper over a year as it would cost to send each of its subscribers a brand new Amazon Kindle instead.

The Washington Post is probably in the same boat and I’d like them to know that I wouldn’t mind at all if they want to send me a Kindle instead of dropping the paper version in my yard every morning.

A business blog recently posted put the Times on a short list of newspapers predicted to follow the path of the Rocky Mountain News, one of the two major Colorado papers, which closed down this week after almost 150 years of publication.

The Post probably isn’t on that list because the news publications (they also own Newsweek) are subsidized by the huge profits that come from their Kaplan unit, which sells lots of tutorial services to schools that NCLB says are failures.

Anyway, I’m no expert on the publishing industry but I’ve certainly been a consumer of major newspapers for many years and I’m very interested in seeing the kind of quality (mostly) reporting and writing they do continue.

However, it’s very clear (at least to me) that the Post and the others probably need to get out of the business of transporting a physical copy of their web site to my door each day.

Now, all they have to do is figure out how to get us to pay for information on their web site when they’ve already trained us to expect it for free.

[Updated to correct error about NY Times. Thanks to Chris for pointing out that I can’t tell the difference between New York papers. :-)]

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