With all the hype about Amazon’s new Kindle e-book reader over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking about what products like the Kindle and Sony’s Reader might mean for educators and students.
The possibility that tempts me most is the prospect of students being able to register for a class and then seamlessly download all the readings for their schedule–textbooks, secondary readings, articles placed on reserve, primary sources (images, texts, sounds, video), problem sets, etc., etc. At that moment, the student then has access to all of his or her course materials for the semester (including syllabi).
Imagine how much easier it would be to teach if each of your students had all of the course materials for the semester sitting right there on their desks in a small package like one of these e-book readers. The instructor could then quite easily go back to material from earlier in the semester, or jump ahead to something assigned for the end of the term, and students would have instant access to whatever you wanted them to see.
From the standpoint of the publishing industry, such a prospect has to be much more appealing than having all that material posted online, where it can be traded (for free) among the student population at large. The DRM feature of these readers means that copyright holders would thus be able to maintain a reasonable amount of control over their products. And, they could cut way back on printing and production, shipping and storage, of bulky books, especially textbooks.
I recently had a very interesting conversation with the president of a major textbook publishing house in which he asserted that the textbook was over as a profit center for their company and that they needed to figure out what they were going to be doing in 10 years when they weren’t publishing textbooks any more. The situation I’ve just described might be one way out of this looming crisis.
But I don’t think it’s going to work. At least not in the current configuration of these devices.
The single biggest obstacle to the scenario I’ve just described is that these devices are not Internet access devices. For teaching and learning to be truly transformed by e-book devices, students (and their instructors) will have to have real time access to the Internet with the same device.
Why? Because even in the happy circumstance where a student has all of his or her readings for the semester downloaded to an e-book reader, that small device on his or her desk represents a limited universe of information. With content literally exploding onto the Internet at a rate unimaginable just a couple of years ago, students and instructors will demand instant access to additional information.
Until that problem is solved, e-book readers really aren’t going to be very useful in the post-secondary classroom. A much better solution, would be to start developing laptops with screens that have the same text reproduction qualities as the readers and that are smaller than the current clunkers my students lug around. When students have a device the size of the current crop of readers that can do all the things that the readers do and can access online resources, then we’ll have something really useful.
Steve? Steve Jobs? Are you listening?