Friday, March 20, 2009

tt4t_079 Book tech, the next generation

It’s Friday, March 20th, 2009 and welcome to episode 79 of TechTalk4Teachers, I’m Tom Grissom. The ITC has recently purchased a Kindle 2 electronic book reader and I have now had some hands-on time with this innovative device. Waiting for a second generation device is generally a good strategy when purchasing any new technology especially if it is groundbreaking.

To listen click on the Play button >

Download MP3

Back on episode 74 I discussed my thoughts regarding this second generation device based upon all that I had read about it. Now I can share with you some of my opinions based upon practical hands-on experience. Some of my original opinions remain unchanged but I was pleasantly surprised about the efficiency of the wireless Whispernet service and the future possibilities this device offers students and educators.

Here are my first impressions of the Kindle 2 after having some experience with it. Keep in mind that the novelty factor has a strong influence on ones view of a new technology. Everything seems better when we first experience something new and there is a bit of a honeymoon period. The Kindle 2 is an expensive device, it currently sells on Amazon for $359 US. The form factor is a little smaller than I expected being the size of an average paperback book. The usable screensize however is about one-half the size of a paperback book and this is a current weakness in my opinion, a larger readable surface would be an improvement. Having said that a redesign of the controls would be necessary as a large portion of the bottom of the Kindle 2 is reserved for a QWERTY style keyboard. Please see the show notes for this episode for a couple of pictures of the device in my office to get an idea of its relative size.

I won’t go into the technical details as there are plenty of online reviews that go into that but rather discuss my first impressions of using the device and the implications this device may have for future educational use.

The first thing that struck me was the small size and the thinness of the device. The device weighs just 10.2 ounces and can hold over 1000 books! That’s the good news, the bad news is that you still have to pay for all of those books if you want an electronic version.

If you already have an Amazon account purchasing a book is extraordinarily easy. In fact it is too easy as you may be tempted to go on a shopping spree and purchase more than you intended because of the ease and convenience. To use the wireless delivery service called Whispernet you must first setup your Amazon account for the one-click shopping service and register your Kindle device. Once you provide your credit card information and configure the one-click service you are ready to buy your first book.

This was the point that I have to admit that I was impressed. After the Kindle 2 was fully charged I purchased my first book using the device. I chose the book Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns by Clayton Christensen, Curtis W. Johnson and Michael B. Horn as my first purchase, this choice only seemed appropriate given the disruption the Kindle is having on the publishing industry. I went to the Shop in the Kindle Store link on the Kindle device and typed in the name of my selected title in the search box using the QWERTY keyboard, the Kindle presented me my chosen title with the BUY button already selected. All I had to do was confirm the purchase and in less than ONE minute I had the full-text of Disrupting Class wirelessly delivered to the Kindle 2 and ready for me to read. Talk about convenient!

The first thing I noticed about the reading experience was that the screen is not white with black text but rather a dingy gray color with black text. From what I have read about usability testing of the device Amazon chose this color combination to reduce eye-strain. This does take a bit of getting used to as I am used to reading off of a backlit LCD computer screen that is much brighter. The other advantage of using the gray colored screen is that you can easily read from the Kindle outside on a sunny day. Anybody that has used a laptop outside can testify that a backlit screen is difficult to read outside.

The second thing that I noticed after reading the first few pages of the e-book is that there is a black flash between every page when you advance the book to the next page. This is a little annoying but you do get used to it, having said that it would obviously be a better experience without the flashing refresh between page turns.

Thirdly, one of the biggest benefits of the Kindle 2 reader is that I can select the text-size for each page that I read. For my older eyes I definitely appreciated having the ability to dynamically change the text-size to suit my preference for a larger text-size. Of course when you use a larger font you can’t get as many words on a page but the next page button refreshes the next page quickly so you can continuously read without interruption.

For me the text-to-speech capability still needs some work as the male and female voices still seem a little robotic as many of the voice inflections are not correct. The Authors Guild has also recently challenged Amazon over the text-to-speech capabilities of the Kindle stating that their publishing contracts do not include the text-to speech option. As a result Amazon has taken away text-to-speech capability for many books that the Authors Guild is contesting. A link is available in the show notes to an article presenting the Authors Guild viewpoint regarding this controversy.

Authors Guild Article on Kindle text-to-speech

There are several educational implications for this technology, in my opinion it is nearly ready for primetime educational use. I say nearly because the relative high price of the device will have to decline before it finds a large educational audience. The potential is definitely there as costs decline in the future. Imagine being able to instantly download updated textbooks on demand. Since the device can hold over one thousand books those back breaking book bags may finally become a thing of the past. There still remains some work as the screen resolution and brightness also needs to improve and color is not currently supported.

For textbook publishers this device threatens existing distribution methods of a long standing industry. College students and parents of a college student know first had the high-costs of hardcopy text books. It is not uncommon for a textbook to cost over $100 each. Delivering a textbook electronically should substantially reduce the costs of a textbook because the cost to produce a hardcopy edition will be eliminated. More importantly the textbook can be more easily updated when it is in electronic form and the cost of distribution approaches zero dollars so more frequent updates should make for more accurate textbooks in the future. As a parent of a college student I can testify that I have spent over $500 for just one semester of textbooks for my daughter. Suddenly the $359 figure may not be as high as I originally thought.

I have not run the figures yet but even at the current $359 price point the Kindle 2 could be comparable in price to hardcopy textbooks IF the electronic editions are substantially discounted. Therein lies the problem for publishers, will they allow for substantial price reductions of electronic editions? Will faculty support electronic editions of textbooks? We will have to stay tuned to see.

My biggest reservation with this technology is that it is currently proprietary and books purchased on Amazon have digital rights management built-in that require a Kindle device to read. I have the feeling of déjà vu all over again as the Kindle appears to be going down the same road as Apple has went with iTunes where purchases on iTunes require an iPod to play back purchased music. That is beginning to change in the music industry as both iTunes and the Zune Marketplace offer non-DRM’d music but it has taken the industry years to get to a non-DRM’d music store. Let’s hope that e-books can avoid the DRM trap that has caused so much strife in the music industry.

Technology Pick of the Week

My Technology Pick of the Week this week is the K-12 edition of the Horizon Report 2009. Every year the Horizon Report is released that is geared toward higher education and the emerging technologies that are or will soon be impacting higher education over the next five years. The online edition of the K-12 version of this report has recently been released and a link is available in the show notes.

2009 Horizon Report: The K12 Edition

This report is a must read for K12 educators wanting an overview of emerging technologies and their potential impact upon K12 education. The report is broken down into segments discussing technologies that are one year or less away, two to three years out, and four to five years out. The report also discusses five critical challenges education currently faces regarding these emerging technologies.

That wraps it up for episode 79 of TechTalk4Teachers. Transcripts and show notes for this episode and archived episodes are available on the web at the EIU Instructional Technology Center website at just click on the Techtalk4Teachers Podcast link. If you have questions, comments or suggestions please send an email to or leave a comment on the TechTalk4Teachers blog. Until next time, this is Tom Grissom, keep on learning.


Mrs. Barford said...

Tom -- Thanks for the interesting preview of Kindle 2. An important option for readers of standard model books is the ability to tag standout text with post-it notes, to underline, to make margin notes, etc. How do you do this with your digital book? Could you copy passages and send them to your computer? Judy

TechTalk4Teachers said...

Thank you for the comment, right now the Kindle is a self-contained e-book reader but you can add bookmarks to "dog ear" pages. It is a different paradigm and the inability to scratch notes may be a disadvantage however maybe students shouldn't be scribbling in the books if they are going to be used by others in other classes such as textbook rental systems. It does feel different reading from the Kindle but I am getting used to it, some advantages and some disadvantages. If you did not have engrained habits I don't think you would miss the hardcopy that much.

TechTalk4Teachers said...

I do not know a way to "clip" portions of text and send to a computer. If there are other TechTalk4Teachers listeners out there that know how to do this please send a comment. Probably has some copyright implications so if it is allowed it would probably be limited to a few words.