Drawbacks to the Kindle in the Classroom?

If you were to go back to the old copies of the novels and plays I still rely upon—To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby, Hamlet—to do my daily teaching, you would see all sorts of scribbled notes in different colored pens.  You would see highlighters in every color imaginable.  You would see small pieces of printed material taped to pages.  You would see dog-ears and great big rips among the stressed-out bindings of my paperback copies.  You would see the small word “Ha!” scrawled next to anything remotely funny.

Well, according to a new Princeton study, if I relied upon a Kindle DX to view these same literary masterpieces, I’d be in quite the pickle, indeed.

I remember a teacher I had long ago preaching to the class about how margin notes reeked of lower intelligence.  I can only laugh at her now as I use some of those very notes, some from wise souls as far back as high school, to teach my own classes.  Although not for everyone, notes on the side of a page are like gold to me.  They always reveal the teacher’s wisdom on the subject:  wisdom that I often lacked at the time, . . . and that wisdom is scrawled right next to the exact quote from the work in question.

Thus stands the problem for both students and teachers for the Kindle DX.

According to a recent article from USA Today and follow-up in educationnews.org, the college students at Princeton (although well equipped to embrace the new technology) grew frustrated with a few simple functions that were lacking.  Stated simply, the Kindle DX has no ability to highlight, no ability to use different colors to differentiate underlined text, no way to scrawl simple notes in a margin (only typed on a keypad), no easy way to maneuver through the work to underlined text, no way to skim or flip randomly through a work, no way to mark text via “page” number, no way to keep multiple texts open at the same time, and no real system for organizing typed annotation.

In short, although this product is perfect for simple reading, the students at Princeton weren’t convinced it was a good scholarly aid.

This device needs to make things easier, not more frustrating, for students trying to annotate and, further, for students following along in class when the professor simply asks them to “turn to page 154.”  Michael Koenig, director of operations at Virginia’s Darden School of Business who also ran a Kindle DX study, said, “It’s just not as flexible or nimble as having your paper notes or your laptop right there, . . . not quite ready for prime time.”

Still, others called it a “first-generation product” with lots of potential.  At least 15% of students loved the device, citing perfection for students on-the-go as well as the “green” aspect of using zero paper products.

For me, unless the descendants of the new Kindle come with a stylus and different color options, I think I’ll pass on this technology for everything except the simple reading of a text.  However, that isn’t to say that these improvements aren’t already hanging in the balance . . . .


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