Thursday, 3 February 2011

Is the Kindle any use in education?

I love my Kindle. I am reading much more, and in places I didn't read before. This is because I carry it around with me always as it fits in my pocket, and I love the fact that it always seems to be charged up. I also like that it remembers my page in in each book I have started. I have loaded it up with enough reading material to keep me going for years, and it still has space for more.

Some important points I am completely comfortable with are that I am not trying to use it as a computer or a phone; I am not expecting full colour graphics; I don't mind that it uses a proprietary ebook format (as converters are available); I like that the screen is not touch sensitive; and the screen size and weight are perfect. I like the lack of a back-light, as it is easier on my eyes. I like that I could annotate the texts I am reading, even though I don't, and I can cope perfectly well with moving the cursor or highlight around using the 5-way controller. Anything that improves on any of these aspects would make it heavier, more costly, and reduce the running time on a single charge. In other words, less good for reading books.

It seems to me that there is a perfect niche for the Kindle in education where it outstrips all the opposition, and that is for literature and history students who have a lot of text-heavy reading to do. Lots of bulky text books to carry around could be replaced by one well stocked Kindle. What's more, students can annotate texts in ways that schools would rather they didn't with paper versions.

However, if I was an A-Level English Literature teacher, I would want a way of organising and managing the distribution of ebooks across a class set of Kindle devices. Currently it is possible with a normal Amazon account to register up to 6 Kindle readers (either the Kindle devices themselves, or Kindle apps on other devices) and share a purchased ebook among them. This would be cumbersome for schools. Schools would need a different system which enables them to purchase ebooks for multiple devices. I have been unable to find out if anything like this is coming, so if anyone knows more, please get in contact.

Giving every student a small, light, unobtrusive, long-lasting and relatively inexpensive device containing all the set books they need for their studies looks like a good move, set against the way this is done at present. Those who say the students could use their own smart phones, or their iPads, or their laptops, are missing the point. They are nowhere near as good for reading, and reading long texts is what I am talking about. A device that is Jack-of-all-trades, is invariably master of none.

Providing a suitable and tested template is used, teachers can email worksheets and assignments relating to the books being studied, directly to each device. Ebooks are never lost, of course, even if the Kindle is. They never get dog-eared, and the pages don't fall out. Sustainability is built-in.

I have spent years yearning for the perfect ubiquitous device but I've stopped now. I have finally realised that for some activities I want a really big screen, a mouse and a full size keyboard, for some I need a pocket-sized high speed communications device, and for some I now need a Kindle.