Financial Times – “E-books fail the classroom test”

“E-books fail the classroom test” Article written by Paul Taylor, published 5/9/10, accessed 8/9/10

There are parallels and conflicts with our own pilot project. The article covers the responses of a single US college – The University of Virginia’s Darden school of business, and the pilot involved the use of the Kindle as an academic tool with 62 students over the course of an academic year.

But while students liked some of the Kindle’s features, such as the big screen and the ability to store hundreds of case studies and books on the device, most were unhappy overall with the user experience, says Michael Koenig, Darden’s director of MBA operations.

Although the device allowed students to highlight text and make notes, many complained that it was difficult to use these features and said the Kindle was more suitable for casual reading than for the classroom.

The article states that many students had abandoned the Kindle by the second semester. What I find interesting though is that

[when the students were] asked: “Would you recommend the Kindle DX to an incoming Darden MBA student? “A total of 75-80 per cent answered ‘no’,” says Mr Koenig. Kindle-using students were then asked: “Would you recommend the Kindle DX to an incoming MBA student as a personal reading device?” A total of 90-95 per cent said “yes”.

Research and course based reading was the main emphasis of the Darden pilot, whereas the pupils in our pilot groups are using theirs for leisure time reading, although there is nothing to stop the Tower Hamlets pupils purchasing a class reader or set text for their iPod. Their generally positive reaction to reading (for pleasure) on the iPods correlates to the positive responses of the Darden students and raises the question of whether secondary school pupils can objectively measure the benefits of an eReader in an academic sense without having put it to the test in a classroom or research setting. It also raises the question of whether an observer of my own project would equate enjoyment of reading for pleasure on an eReader to greater enjoyment of studying using an eReader.

The Darden students would have been engaged far more in independent study and research than any of our pilot pupils, for example, and would likely have demanded a higher standard of flexibility from their devices, particularly in relation to note taking and reference. The likes of the Kindle were designed purely for reading and purchasing books and will lack the tools and reference software that students would have been familiar with on their PCs, and it seems that the college ran into the same problem that I had, albeit from another direction, the problem that we are using an over-designed device for a purpose that it was not designed for.

“You must be highly engaged in the classroom every day,’’ he says, adding that the Kindle is “not flexible enough … It could be clunky. You can’t move between pages, documents, charts and graphs simply or easily enough compared to the paper alternatives.”

The other point raised was that the Darden students had their readers for a longer period of time and were using it on a daily basis as part of their lessons. Therefore they would encounter and report any difficulties much more quickly than the Tower Hamlets pupils, some of whom (from the exit surveys) were only using their eReaders once per week or less.

The objective of the pilot is currently to monitor the benefits of eBooks in encouraging reading and literacy – not specific benefits to the classroom. As a next step, though, I would consider making sure that the next pilot group make one of their purchases the text that they are studying for their English Literature GCSE, and that they use this as opposed to their printed copy.