Universities Turn to Kindle? (RJS)

A NY Times Blog Green Inc. reported last week that six universities will test a Kindle text book plan this fall.  The development was also reported in the Wall Street Journal last May: Amazon to Launch Kindle for Textbooks. From the WSJ article:


Beginning this fall, some students at Case Western Reserve
University in Cleveland will be given large-screen Kindles with
textbooks for chemistry, computer science and a freshman seminar
already installed, said Lev Gonick, the school’s chief information
officer. The university plans to compare the experiences of students
who get the Kindles and those who use traditional textbooks, he said.

has worked out a deal with several textbook publishers to make their
materials available for the device, Mr. Gonick added. The new device
will also feature a more fully functional Web browser, he said. The
Kindle’s current model, which debuted in February, includes a Web
browser that is classified as “experimental.”

Five other universities are involved in the Kindle project,
according to people briefed on the matter. They are Pace, Princeton,
Reed, Darden School at the University of Virginia, and Arizona State.

According to the NYT blog Case Western is testing the technology as a way to improve freshman success rates.  Princeton, on the other hand, is testing the technology as a way to increase sustainability and reduce – even eliminate – the use of paper. The Darden School at the University of Virginia hopes to become “carbon neutral” and sees the Kindle as a tool to achieve this goal. 

Wide spread adoption of an e-reader technology would have an enormous impact on the textbook industry – and on bookstores.

It would virtually eliminate the used textbook market. 

It would substantially lighten a student’s backpack load – and as the primary book I use in two of the classes I often teach is 10.5 inches tall, 7 inches deep, and 3.25 inches wide (a real monster), this is not a “light” consideration.  (And Scot’s students complain about big bibles … ha!) 

On the other hand, I still use many of my old textbooks as resources and references.  But the way technology changes and develops a Kindle book would likely be effectively useless within a decade.

What do you think? Are Kindle textbooks the way to go?

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  • Nora

    As a first-generation Kindle user and a graduate student, I would love to see universities turn to Kindle to “lighten the load” for students and to reduce paper use. As an English major, however, I could not use the Kindle for research papers because the Kindle does not provide page numbers that could be cited in the MLA style required. Even the location numbers at the bottom of the screen are subjective, because they depend on the preferred font size of the user. I will be interested to see if Kindle/Amazon comes up with a way to overcome this problem.

  • I’m still a “real book” guy. Of course, I haven’t had to move them all in 6 years and they have been breeding pretty crazily in that time span.
    In general, if I’m going to fork over a pile of money for a book, not merely having a (temporary) right to use a book, I’d to have something to show for it.

  • James

    There’s one problem in particular that sticks out in my mind immediately, and it’s the problem of the uknown/unpublished limited number of downloads. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only bibliophile here, and the idea that I could buy a book and not have access to it later strikes at the very core of my being.
    Less paper, unquestionably a good thing.
    Not having to lug about BDAG and Wallace? Good thing.

  • Maria

    Having spent many years as an undergraduate student lugging around big engineering textbooks on a large state school campus, the Kindle seems like a welcome alternative.
    Yet, I think we have to question whether the Kindle is actually a more environmentally-friendly option. E-waste is becoming a huge problem in our world (check out http://www.pbs.org/frontlineworld/stories/ghana804/). It is much harder to recycle an electronic device than paper, and electronic devices may cause much more environmental damage in their production (mining metals, production of synthetic materials, and manufacturing) than a book. A college student may go through many textbooks, some of which end up reused many times, others of which end up trashed or recycled, but if every student through out a Kindle every 4 years, we might have an even bigger problem.

  • RJS

    I think you hit a key point here – for an e-reader such as the Kindle to be ecologically sound there must be a viable and extensive recycling plan. They cannot be dumped in landfills.
    On the other hand, given that we must develop a viable plan for all of the rest of our e-waste (last year’s cell phone and the old Mac, obsolete CRT monitors and televisions …) won’t the Kindle be merely a small addition rather than a major perturbation?

  • I buy for knowledge, not access. By that I mean when you buy a kindle you buy access to the book, but the file format is owned by Amazon, you cant print it and use it as reference. And as before noted, when the kindle dies where does all that knowledge go?
    I want to own the book, touch the book, have it at my fingertips when I need it. Kindle is good for the Read, recite and repeat crowd, but not for those who want to keep a reference library for future use and development.

  • RJS

    I agree-but how many student actually use their freshman or sophomore level texts after college?
    In many classes these are large, heavy & expensive. Perhaps Kindle or something similar would fill a good niche.

  • John L

    RJS, it gets better. The end of the industrial model will impact churches and universities alike.

  • RJS

    I don’t think online will make us obsolete, but it will certainly change some of the way we operate-and already has.

  • To Nora (#1),
    Logos/Libronix software has dealt with the ‘true’ page number issue in a rather effective way, I think. For the electronic books that are in one’s library, the software simply places the page numbers in brackets wherever they appear in the paper edition. Example: text text text [124] text text text. It makes citing commentaries very easy.
    I don’t see why it would be terribly difficult for Amazon to find a similar way of doing things.

  • Barb Z from Atlanta

    It is has been years….but the first thought that came to mind is that if textbooks go to to the Kindle, then we lose many of the privileges of having a paper copy, to give it away, or to sell the book. That may not be what the writers and publishers want to hear, but I looked forward to recouping some costs to my old text books if they were not part of my major.

  • I think the usefulness will vary by subject matter. I still have some texts from when I was in college thirty years ago. Other texts were sold as soon as the class was over.
    My study habits to this day include lots of highlighting and note taking on the text of the book itself. I’d be far more inclined to use Kindle for fiction or casual reading rather than for topics where I expect to engage in significant study.

  • Travis Greene

    I believe Kindle has a note-taking and bookmarking function. For what it’s worth. Much more bothersome to me is the fact that Amazon can, and does, remotely delete stuff you’ve already bought. When they come up with a DRM-free, transferable file that I can really own, I might consider it.
    A bigger question for me is, why do we not already have electronically accessible books? I bet well over 2/3rds of those students already lug a portable device with a screen around to all their classes.

  • RJS

    I think the best approach – at least for a time (even a decade or so) may be to offer alternatives, paper and e-book and see how it shakes out. But I have a feeling that there will be a move to e-book for some things.
    A computer format may be an option as well – but I think that the e-reader screens are easier and better and the devices are smaller and lighter for the purpose.