Many folks ask me about which e-reader to buy. There has been a lot of buzz over offerings from Sony, Amazon (Kindle), and Barnes and Noble (Nook). Likewise, you might be wondering what the impact of these devices are in schools.
> I have a Kindle (version 1) and an iPad. The original Kindle worked well for reading, but not great for the types of academic reading I do (highlighting and adding notes). Now that I have an iPad, it’s my preferred device because it’s not a multitasker (unlike the Kindle, it does more than one thing). With the iPad, I can still use the books I’ve purchased through Amazon on the iPad using their free app.
We currently deploy a few Kindles in our Title 1 reading program. The devices work well to inexpensively furnish books, but the selection of books via Amazon.com is not comprehensive; it’s geared first and foremost for the person at home reading. While some of this content is great for use in schools, it doesn’t mean any book can be used on it.
All three readers give you the ability to load free books (usually in a format called ePub) too. But the thinking behind each is to tie you into a bookstore with a credit card so that you can carry at least 100 or more books with you, and you can buy books using either cellular wireless or WiFi.
The other big player right now people are talking about is the iPad. As one function of the iPad, it can act as a book reader. Apple has their own bookstore through the iBooks application, plus there are both free Nook and Kindle apps too. So, if you’ve already invested in books through B&N or Amazon, you’ll be able to read those books on iPad. But books you purchase through one vendor don’t work on other devices. In other words, you’re buying “into” one of these vendors. B&N books work on Nook. Apple books work on iBooks. Yet, a device with apps seems to be a winning choice: it brings most of the e-bookstores onto one single device.
iPad is so much more beyond an e-reader however. It’s a big iPod, which means it plays back music and video. It’s got a great web experience using wifi. But beyond that – is the potential for “game changing” apps. These are programs that run on the platform, and this includes music creating apps, note taking apps, games, interactive books, and more. These are procured through an “app store,” and while some cost money, others are free.
So, if we were to draw a continuum of cost and capability, e-readers are very single-minded devices that are inexpensive but mainly focus on reading books from the company’s electronic bookstore. The iPad and iPod touch offers reading, in addition to apps and media management. The next in the continuum would be something called a netbook – or a mini, but somewhat underpowered laptop. Then finally, we have laptops which offer a full-range computer experience.
No matter what device you buy – there will be tradeoffs. Things to consider are:
- flexibility (what is the range of things my device can do)
- battery life
- unitask vs. multitask
- adaptability into the classroom environment
Currently the Virginia DOE is looking at iPads and how they can be used as digital textbooks – not e-books, but more complex, richer digital books that include video, moving graphics, color, and interactive elements. While the iPad is a very flexible device, Pearson Education doesn’t make an eSOL testing client for it (yet). Is the company the DOE has contracted to produce the testing software used across the Commonwealth. As we move forward, our technology may include a variety of different devices, but laptops still are what enable us to do online testing, support rich media creation, and run the fullest range of educational software.
We will see in the next year or so what textbook companies, educational software vendors, and others offer on more mobile platforms.
As I am currently at the VSTE conference, there are many school divisions now who have deployed limited numbers of iPads and iPod Touches in Virginia as a new class of computing device. There’s a lot to be learned!