Archive for July, 2013

Why I Love My Kindle (and Your Students Might, Too)

For my birthday/Father’s Day gift this year, my wife and kids got me the newest non-tablet model of the Amazon Kindle, the Paperwhite.  I’ve already read several books on it in the month plus I’ve had it, so I’m feeling pretty comfortable with the device and discussing what it can and can’t do.

Dedicated e-Reader vs. Tablet

While I considered getting a tablet that could function not only as an e-reader but also as a web browser, gaming device, media player, etc., I went with my little monochrome Paperwhite precisely because its primary function is to display books and magazines, and I’ll only be using it for books anyway.  The lack of a modern, speedy web browser or social networking apps is actually a good thing for me, as it will prevent me from saying, “Oh, I’ll just click over to Facebook and see what’s up” and then two hours later…

My phone and computer do voice, Internet, and productivity stuff, my iPod does music, and my Kindle will do books.  I’m comfortable with that level of compartmentalization.  It’s the new old-fashioned way.

Why I Like My Kindle

  • Ergonomics: My Kindle is a good fit for my hand.  Without the case, the device measures 6.7″ x 4.6″, so it’s bigger than a smartphone but smaller than most tablets.  I can hold it in my right hand and tap the screen with my thumb to advance the page.  Even in a case, it’s small and light (7.5 oz), and not awkward to hold.  It feels natural and comfortable.
  • Hypertext-ish: It’s not hypertext in the strictest sense, but you can highlight any word in any e-book and pull up a definition from the Kindle’s on-board dictionary.  If you can’t get what you want from the dictionary, choosing the “More” option allows you to pull up the Wikipedia entry for your highlighted term, as well as to search for it in your other e-books or in the entire Kindle store.
  • Social Functionality: I love, love, love being able to highlight a controversial, inspiring, or otherwise interesting passage on the Kindle and share it out to my Facebook friends or Twitter followers.
  • Portability: I took twenty books with me on my recent vacation to Antigua.  Before my Kindle, that would’ve been a checked bag unto itself, but I was able to slip them all into the cargo pocket of my shorts.
  • Customization: From an accessibility standpoint, the size of the text and brightness of the screen can be adjusted.  There’s no such thing as “regular print” or “large print” anymore; the text of every book can be made as large or as small as I’m comfortable with.
  • Access to Public Domain Works: My Kindle (as well as any e-reader, to be fair) allows me to access hundreds of literary works in the public domain for free via Project Gutenberg.  These works are all available through traditional retailers for a price, but why pay when it’s legal to obtain them for free?

I fully acknowledge that not every technological tool I enjoy on a personal level has applications in the classroom; however, just off the top of my head, here are some ways I can see Kindles being beneficial in school – not as students’ sole devices, but rather as part of their toolbelt:

Potential Benefits for Students

  • Research/Note-Taking: With a few finger swipes, passages and references are “clipped” and backed up to one central location (your Amazon account) for later perusing, either on the Kindle or on the Amazon website.  Could be helpful with organization.
  • Access to Classic Novels: Many of the 18th-, 19th-, and some early 20th-century works students study in high school literature courses can be found for free at Project Gutenberg.  I just downloaded the complete works of both Poe and Shakespeare; I also saw, in passing, Kafka, Dickens, Voltaire, Chaucer, Dante, Fitzgerald, Whitman, and many other canonical heavy hitters.
  • Portability: Aside from the convenience factor for the general population, some students are physically incapable of lugging multiple textbooks around.  One Kindle can likely fit every textbook and novel a student might need throughout four years of high school.
  • Built-In Dictionary/Wikipedia Access: One long press answers the question “What does this word mean?”  Another click or two enables readers to do cursory research on allusions and references made in-text in order to better understand what they’re reading.  I don’t believe any research has been done yet as far as Kindles/e-readers and their impact on fluency, literacy, etc., but I think it would be a very worthwhile undertaking.

Potential Drawbacks

  • Cost to Replace/Repair: Novels can be replaced for a few bucks.
  • Ties to Amazon Ecosystem: I suppose it’s the price to pay for the note-taking functionality.  It can read e-books from any source, but it does tie users in to Amazon accounts, which would expose students to advertising if/when on the website.
  • ???: I’m kind of stuck, honestly.  I’m having difficulty thinking of any other major drawbacks.

Do you use Kindles or other e-readers with your students?  What have your classroom experiences – good or bad – been with students using these devices?