No more bent students . . .

My son is a freshman in high school this year, and though I have seen it during my 23 years of teaching it hits home even more since he is my son: he is carrying around 50 pounds of stabilized wood pulp in his backpack! Textbooks. Don’t get me wrong, I love books, love to read books, I spend way too many hours and dollars in book stores . . . but I have a seething distaste for textbooks! This time however, it isn’t a philosophical objection to the blatant subjectivity of the things – it’s their size, weight, and cost.

For years I have talked with colleagues and technophiles (geeks rule) about ways to reduce textbooks to manageable proportions. With every new technology, especially in the realm of digital storage, we have new opportunities to make headway in the problem of textbooks. So along comes Amazon.com’s Kindle.The Kindle is not the first digital book reader, but the most recent to make a splash in a rather tepid area of technology. I love the idea of a digital book reader, love the idea of digital books and yes, at the same time I still love holding a “real” book in my hand.

My first experience with “digital books” was back when I had a Palm III. I was able to download a couple of books, including Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. At the time it was great, even on the tiny monochromatic screen, to have something to read when I hadn’t planned ahead and brought along a “real” book. Since then I have been interested in the development of digital books and the tools to read them. Their obvious use in the educational world drove my interest.

I recently read a couple of blogs reviewing the Kindle. Robert Scoble, Vice President of Media Development at PodTech.net does a nice job of identifying some of the gadgets shortcomings. His most important points would be the lack of any social networking capability and the lack of touch screen technology. Alexander Falk, aka XML Afficionado and\ President & CEO of Altova, Inc.offers his take on the Kindle in his blog. He seems rather pleased with it, though the comment that caught my eye was, “I’ve started using the original Sony Reader
over a year ago and just upgraded to the newest Sony Reader about 2
months ago – the reason is that I travel a lot and I like to read when
I’m traveling, but I don’t like to either lug around 5-6 books with me
or run out of reading materials during a trip.”

That’s the point!

I don’t own a Kindle, haven’t held one in my hands, but I do get it: It’s small, light weight, and it holds a lot of content. I don’t need to own one to see its real potential. So when I read the first “customer” review at Amazon is from “Eclectic Homeschool Mom”, I expected to see some mention of the things real potential – instead I was significantly irritated by the following comment:

“For things like textbooks and other books where I want a “real” copy of
the book, I would like to see a purchase option that includes a Kindle
version for almost nothing if I am purchasing the title in book form.”

What?

The Kindle’s most innovative potential is in education – eliminating the need for mountains of textbooks! I am potentially stepping back into Grad school where the cost of one semester of textbooks can often exceed the cost of the Kindle. Then there is the size of all these books, I don’t want to lug them around for the next three to four years. What I do want is for someone at Amazon to realize that the biggest untapped market facing them is the world of Higher Education. I want to go to the university bookstore and pick up a Kindle loaded with all of my textbooks, with powerful tools for annotating them and the ability to share these annotations with my fellow classmates – electronically. I want the ability to communicate with members of a study group at the same time I am reading the hundred pages due by tomorrow and not have to be in the same location. I don’t need and frankly don’t want a “real” copy of these textbooks. One copy is enough, if I can use it the way I need to.

I wish Scoble would have added one request to the bottom of his letter:

Mr. Bezos, please find a university to partner with (preferable the one I hope to attend) and embark on an innovative partnership with them.

1. Pick a graduate program.

2. Offer the students enrolled a Kindle (at educational pricing)

3. Provide all the textbooks in digital format each semester

4. Include powerful annotation tools and the ability to network with other students

That’s all I am asking for, is that too much?

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