Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Kindle: the first experimental step and mistakes made

The first eReader that the high school library purchased was the Kindle in January 2010.  At that time, it was the only eReader device that other educational institutions (including higher ed) were experimenting with.  We had already purchased eBooks that were accessible via the Internet (through our online catalog), but I wanted to give students the opportunity to read books on a mobile device and begin getting some feedback on their experience.  With technology, you can theorize forever about what "might" work, but unless we actually purchased the technology, experimented with it, and got it into the hands of the users, we would never really know its effectiveness, so the Kindle was purchased.

After examining the Kindle, we discovered a list of pros and cons:

The Pros -
  • E-ink technology (probably the best feature of the Kindle)
  • Text is readable in extremely bright sunlight (on the three days that bright sunlight actually occurs in Northeast Ohio ;-)  
  • No glare from screen, even when using a light for night time reading
  • Lightweight (easy to hold and carry)
  • Inexpensive
  • Battery life is approximately 10 days
  • Outstanding selection of books
  • Easy to purchase books (also a negative which I'll discuss)
  • Fairly simple navigation
  • Dictionary
  • Text to speech feature (if enabled by publisher)
  • Wi-fi and 3G options, although only 3G was available when I purchased the Kindle
The Cons -
  • No pagination; uses percentages of the book completed--would make it difficult for students to find a passage when discussing in a classroom setting
  • Outdated and difficult navigation for looking up words, adding notes, etc.  Most users are more familiar with and expect a touch screen/keyboard on mobile devices
  • Small screen
  • No password protection on purchases (that has changed on the newer models)
  • Cannot borrow books from a public library
Student Use, Security & Technology Issues

I purchased approximately $50. worth of Amazon books, including popular young adult fiction, and downloaded many of the free classics for students and teachers to read.  In all honesty, there wasn't a line of students waiting outside the library door waiting to use the Kindle (that was the story when the iPad arrived later that spring!).   So I started marketing it to faculty and students and allowed them to take the Kindle home so that they could offer some feedback.  The feedback mostly consisted of being dazzled by the technological aspect of the device rather than how it impacted reading comprehension, but I think that was partially due to the newness of the technology and not having any official studies conducted on using the device or classroom assignments/programs connected with the Kindle.  The one positive feedback was from students with special needs who enjoyed reading using the Kindle, so that was worth the purchase if it motivated reluctant readers to complete their reading assignments.

The two technology/security issues we had were credit card security and CIPA.  The Kindle was designed for the individual user, so the one click shopping experience is a feature that is a great marketing tool for Amazon and a nice user feature when individuals are purchasing books, but when a device is available for student check-out, it can become problematic.  After many frustrating phone calls to Amazon, we finally found out that the only way to protect any students or staff from accidentally or purposely downloading books was to remove the credit card from the account after every authorized purchase.  A bothersome step, but it was manageable.

The other issue that could not be resolved was that the Kindle 3G is not compliant with CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act), which I didn't realize at the time of purchase because no one--to my knowledge--was using the eReaders in the public schools yet.  Although access to the Internet was still in beta format on the Kindle when we purchased it, the Internet was still accessible unfiltered to students.  Currently, Amazon offers wi-fi only, which is the only option that public school libraries should consider.  Due to the lack of wi-fi availability on the Kindle and no password protection, I started looking at the iPad and the Barnes and Noble Nook as other options.  However, I do think the Kindle is a great choice as long as it is wi-fi and it meets the needs of the students and the purpose and goals of the library and/or classroom use are aligned with what the Kindle offers.

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