It’s that time of year again and students new and old are heading back to college for the fall. Now, more than ever, having an eReader just makes sense for anybody serious about their education. That said, with so many options on the market it can be hard to choose. Kindle or Nook? eReader or Tablet? Skip it all and just get a laptop, since there are eReading apps anyway? When trying to decide, there are a few factors that are really important.
First, determine what your eBook needs will be. Students new to college can expect significant introductory coursework. This often means older, more widely read works of literature and basic textbooks. Generally this means extended reading of the literature and textbooks only pulled out to work through assignments. For that combination, I recommend an eReader like the Kindle or Nook combined with a PC app for textbook reading (They’re only going to be opened for a few minutes at a time anyway). As always, check the list of required texts to make sure this is feasible before buying. This combination has the added advantage of paying for itself in savings very quickly since a Kindle will only cost you $114 and many commonly used books can be found for free.
In terms of more advanced students, the individual needs will determine whether use of an eReader is feasible. Many technical texts require both extended study and full color diagrams to make sense. The current monochrome limitations of the Kindle would make it less than useful for this. If the program in question requires extensive illustrated textbook reference, you probably don’t need one. If you will be spending much time using academic text references like JSTOR, or focusing on purely text-based studies, the Kindle makes perfect sense.
Assuming you have an idea what kind of product you need, the next step is choosing the particular model. Availability is not really a concern with the Amazon Kindle always including free shipping and the Barnes & Noble Nook available in all of their local stores and many of the college book stores they service. For the most part, this is a matter of personal preference. Both devices accomplish everything you would expect from a reading device and neither has a clear advantage over the other. For a hands-on comparison, many Best Buy stores will have both devices side by side.
I do not recommend using nothing but a laptop PC if the goal is to focus on eBooks. Extended reading on LCD screens can be uncomfortable at best, and the potential for distraction is far higher than on an eReader.
Similarly, there are no circumstances under which I would consider an iPad a valid substitute for either a laptop or an eReader. In terms of reading, they fall short due to the short battery life and a back-lit display that can be hard on the eyes during long study sessions. In classes, the potential for distraction is far higher than on something like a Kindle, which has led to many instructors being uncomfortable even having the devices present in the classroom. They also certainly do not manage to work as well as a laptop for composition or presentation preparation. Students will be forced to perform necessary tasks elsewhere.
Whatever the needs, make sure to keep in mind both the Kindle eText rental service and public domain titles available through the Kindle Store (or just Project Gutenberg) for free. Making use of eBooks will save you money, if you are careful, even accounting for the costs of the reading device.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the potential uses for eReaders beyond the simple enjoyment they are so well suited to providing. It’s an interesting pursuit, really. What it always comes back to, however, is that reading is rarely something people do for anything beyond pleasure in the quantities required to justify something like a Kindle. Except if you’re a student!
See, students will always have more to read in a given week than they will have any interest in carrying around. Which makes something like a Kindle an advantage. At the same time, in many disciplines the mediocre PDF display capabilities, small screen, and lack of color do have the ability to hinder the eReader’s usefulness. Recently, however, we have the iPad and the Nook Color as more expensive but potentially more versatile additions to the student equipment list. It made me curious: We can theorize all we want about what should or shouldn’t be the most useful in a professional or academic setting, but what do the people actually using the devices in these situations think? So I asked.
I talked to 43 students who had all used their eReading device for at least three months. I then went down the list and found the common complaints and praises to share with you all. Here’s what we got:
- Battery that lasts forever
- Glare-free screen
- Storage aplenty
- Built-in Dictionary
- Wide selection of books, both academic & pleasurable
- No color for diagrams
- No functioning microphone
- No way to easily take notes during class
- Awkward pagination
- Slow text searching
- Hard to read faculty-scanned articles
Barnes & Noble Nook Color
- Color Screen
- Very Portable
- Easy to hack
- Runs Android
- Can play games and watch video after hacking
- Poor Battery Life with WiFi turned on
- Can’t read outside
- Complicated to install things on
- Underpowered for full tablet use
- Runs everything
- Good screen
- Can take notes with proper keyboard
- Lots of apps, no hacking needed
- Feels breakable
- Disliked by some instructors
- Very easy to spend too much money through
Now, I’ll start out by saying here that not one person I talked to lately was unhappy with their current purchase. A few of the Nook Color owners had iPad envy, but that was about it. I am also not trying to claim that any of the pros and cons listed for one device do not apply to one of the others. These were just the things that those I talked to felt was important. Everything listed was mentioned by at least five eReader owners.
Surprisingly, of the 12 Nook owners, 10 had rooted their eReaders to make them more functional and most of them said that they enjoyed the tablet functionality more than using them for reading. iPad owners were very happy with their devices, but frequently had trouble with instructors who were wary of potential abuse of the tablets during classes(presumably the same instructors would be anti-laptop as well, of course). Kindle owners were the most satisfied in general but tended to be students in the Humanities, while some of the color tablet owners, in business students, mentioned having been converted away from the Kindle in favor of something that better displayed charts and graphs.
I wouldn’t say we have any clear winners on this one. It’s all a matter of what you want to do and how much you want to pay. If you’re a student in the market for an eReader, you might want to look at some reviews and give these factors some consideration.
For any of you I happened to talk to for this, the responses were appreciated!
Something I didn’t consider at first, but probably should have, when I saw the details of the Kindle 3.1 software update this week was that it seems to introduce features highly applicable to improved use in classrooms. Admittedly, there are a variety of different ways to use all of these things, but this one stands out. Bear with me for a second.
The most highly publicized feature, the “Real Page Numbers”, isn’t exactly as natural a thing as it seems. There’s not really such a thing as standardized pagination between editions of a book. If you grab a paperback and a hardcover of the same title, you can’t exactly expect to see page correlation. It’s actually more shocking when it’s there. The same can be true of two paperbacks purchased years apart. Where you need to have that consistency, though, is in a large group all actively discussing the same book. Usually that means a classroom. Besides the occasional book club, there simply aren’t that many non-academic reasons where you would need an actual corresponding page number. Now, I’m not talking about how nice it is or how enjoyable it is to users. That’s another discussion. But this is definitely one place where it will be extremely functional.
The other big point, at least as far as I’m choosing to prioritize the new features, is the Public Notes option. Now, I love being able to share notes with friends. It’s even amazing to have the option of such an interesting mode of author/reader interaction. But where I see the potential is in professional annotation. One of the biggest problems I’ve heard of over and over again on college campuses, with eReaders in general and the Kindle in particular, was the inability to make use of scholarly editions of popular texts from Norton and the like. This would open up the ability to do something like that, probably with the option to toggle such notes on and off, and even let it be dynamically updated should the need arise. Accomodating, to say the least.
Also related, though I doubt it was so much as a consideration in the formation, is the revised magazine formatting. It’s definitely easier to navigate things now that the quickie snapshot is available for moving around with. Since the screen doesn’t exactly lend itself to advertising anyway, I’ve always felt that the potential was greater for journal publications than popular magazines anyway. This just makes it that much better. Do I see anybody falling all over themselves to adopt the new format? Not really. That doesn’t make it a bad idea though, and I’d like more publishers to see the potential.
Now, after looking at it a lot i really don’t think that any of this besides maybe the page numbering could be said to be directed specifically at the usefulness of the Kindle in schools. That doesn’t make it any less applicable though. Moves like these will make a lot of progress for Amazon when they try once again to break into the Academic scene.
Remember the Kno? It was an interesting idea that was taken by many to be an impossible or doomed project many months ago. The basic idea was that a tablet PC optimized for educational needs and being about the size and weight of a standard undergraduate textbook would go over impressively in the same market where the Kindle failed to make an impression in early tests. Well, as of 12/21 the thing has actually entered the market!
The major selling points seem to be the focus on textbooks and note taking. Looking through the initial offerings, there seems to be quite the selection of digital textbooks already and supposedly more deals are on the way. Particularly interesting for many will be the textbook rental option which will allow students to grab their texts for just a semester at a time for a reduced price. How many people end up needing their Biology 101 text after their first year anyway, right? Right along with that, the fact that you can write directly on the screen, allowing the potential for easy margin notation or a virtual notepad will address one of the problems with the Kindle‘s classroom usefulness. Ease of use on what is among the most important study related activities for many will help.
Beyond that, a lot is riding on the as-yet unrealized potential offered by the app market. Since the whole system is essentially built on the WebKit browser engine, development should be impressively simple and offer a variety of possibilities. The initial offerings of book reading, web browsing, and note taking apps will fill most basic needs, but it’s always best to see some development after the devices have seen some time in the wild, so to speak.
On the negatives side, we still have a very narrowly purposed device and a comparatively high price point. There is no usable USB port, so you’re stuck with the on-screen keyboard or a stylus. It’s a bit on the heavy side as far as something you’re hoping to do any reading is concerned. Also, I have to emphasize that based on the specs this is definitely a reading and web browsing device rather than a PC replacement. It has limited hard drive space, unimpressive speed, and no real expandability. For full tech specs, click here.
Overall, I like the product though. As the developers emphasize on the sales site, your investment(whether it be $599 for the single screen 16GB unit or $999 for the dual screen 32GB unit) will pay off over the course of a year or two, assuming the student using it is able to get the majority of their textbooks through the Kno’s text store, which is something you’ve got to hope to be able to do for this to make sense in the first place.
It isn’t going to be for everybody. This isn’t a Kindle for book reading or an iPad for general use tablet applications. It’s strictly academic. That said, we can only hope that it sees some success. It would certainly be great to have access to something like this that would really allow eBooks to make a splash in the textbook market.
Amazon Kindle 3
When I was in high school about 10 years ago, the only solution to avoid lugging around super heavy books was to make extra trips to your locker, or use a rolling book bag. Rolling book bags should have been more adequately named “rolling hazards.”
Clearwater High School students just got their own personalized Kindles Thursday that are set to replace their textbooks. It is amazing how quickly the Kindle can solve that problem, huh? Each student got a Kindle that was programmed with their own class schedule. They can take notes, look up words in the device’s built in dictionary and use the text to speech feature.
As far as cost goes, the Kindles have saved the school money because it has cut the cost of books. A Kindle is a natural fit for high school students because they are already so technology savvy with texting, Facebook and other technologies. The Kindle makes reading and education so much more engaging and exciting.
My question is, how well will these students take care of their Kindles? Regular textbooks are cheaper to replace and often suffer a great deal of wear and tear. Having a Kindle might just teach the students how to be more responsible because electronics can’t take the amount of wear and tear that regular books can.
I’m surprised that the Kindle DX has not had as much success on college and university campuses so far. I guess it is because are just not that many textbooks available yet. There are ways to digitize textbooks, but they can require destroying the book. It would also not be very cost effective in the end to digitize the book on your own.
It does look promising though that textbooks will soon be available digitally. For science majors especially, who have to lug around really big, expensive books, that would be a lifesaver.
As pilot programs at seven universities around the country wrap up their evaluations of the Kindle DX as a viable teaching tool and textbook alternative, we see pretty much the expected results. The eReader that has been such a pleasure to use in leisure is perhaps not quite ready for the academic scene.
Humanities classes, especially Literature classes which it would otherwise seem that the Kindle is ideally suited to, tend to involve active reading aids such as highlighting, annotation, page marking, etc. These habits are built up over years as students work their way through their programs. Most of these options are present in the Kindle software in some form, of course, and the ability to access your changes and notes on any platform is a major plus, but the device itself has a coupe minor shortcomings in speed and input design that haven’t quite been fully worked out yet.
As development continues and successive versions make the Kindle more responsive, feature-packed, and convenient to annotate, we’re sure to see things change. For now, those students who are willing to cope with the minor inconveniences are already enjoying savings of sometimes as much as 75% on texts for their classes, a savings which easily pays for the device itself over the course of a college career.
Flat World Knowledge, a provider of cheap digital textbooks, has grown dramatically over the summer. This fall semester, over 40,000 college students will use Flat World’s textbooks. This is 40 times as many people as in the last spring semester.
This is cool for a number of reasons. First of all, Flat World’s text books are super cheap. To read the book in a web browser is free. Most students, however, are willing to pay the $20 upgrade to receive DRM free PDF files. And if a student really hates digital media, there is still the option to pay even more for a physical copy. There isn’t any real downside for the students who have Flat World textbooks assigned in their classes.
The second reason why I like this story is that it means more professors are choosing digital formats for their classes. This is a conscious decision on the part of the teachers to provide students with a more convenient and much cheaper alternative to traditional textbooks.
Students who own the Kindle DX, or other eReaders, are going to especially benefit from this. Since the files come in PDF format, there is no reason why they couldn’t be put on a DX. Even better, Flat World plans to add the Amazon format to their library this year. It shouldn’t be long before students can download their books cheaply, over Whispernet, and (since the books are available in multiple formats) no worries about accessibility.