With the appearance on the market (sort of) this week of the Kindle Fire ($199), Amazon’s competitor to Barnes & Noble’s Nook ($249), Sony’s eReader ($149), and Apple’s iPad 2 ($499), it seems like a good moment to step back and take stock of what we can expect from the tablet makers in the coming year or two and what the growing ubiquity of the tablet computer will mean for history education.
As the price pressures on these readers result in lower and lower prices, I think it’s fair to say that before long we’ll see more and more of our students toting these into class rather than a laptop. After all, they are lighter, better for reading, and now that Internet connectivity is becoming ubiquitous, they will be much more useful for teaching and learning. And as the textbook rental market matures, why wouldn’t students rent their books as ebooks to read on a tablet rather than buying a book they’ll only sell back (at a substantial loss)? And the tablets allow them to put all of their textbooks on one slim and light device, thereby saving their backs and postures from further damage at the hands of overheavy backpacks.
My long-time objection to the Kindle (over and above how ugly it is) was that students could only use it to read a book they had purchased. I encourage my students to bring their laptops to class because with those devices scattered around the room, they can look things up, share images or other content with those sitting around them, and work out problems I pose. Do they surf around too? Of course. But paying attention has always been optional at the college level.
Today, in the fall of 2011, we don’t have good assignments, classroom exercises, and other teaching and learning tools designed for these new tablets. But I suspect that it is just a matter of time before such things begin to crop up. As with laptops, there is the problem of who owns a tablet and who does not, but that is a resource issue that can be addressed by the companies making these devices (grants for students please), by the colleges and universities they attend, or by the private sector in general.
The thornier issue is what sorts of tools we ought to be designing to take advantage of these new platforms. Given that they work on various operating systems, it seems to me that the only way to go is open source.
NB: An interesting take on these issues from Robert Talbert in today’s Chronicle.