The iPad was introduced this week, and I think it is just one of many e-book devices that will be introduced in the coming year. The question is not whether the revolution is going to happen, but how it is going to happen.
This year I have had the opportunity to work with a class of Honors Chemistry students who are piloting the use of electronic textbooks using Dell Latitude 2100 netbooks. I am also working with a small class of students who are using Kindles. Working with both of these classes has convinced me that our methods of delivering content are going to change radically in the next few years.
We finally have devices such as netbooks and e-book readers that are lower in cost, and we have textbook publishers like CourseSmart who are actively looking for the perfect device to pair with their electronic textbooks. Amazon and Barnes and Noble have already made e-books very popular. We also have students who are unable to carry their own backpacks because of the heavy load of textbooks.
After working with students using both the netbooks and the Kindles this year, I have a list of things that I would like to see in a student device:
1. Durability – We’ve had several netbook screens damaged from falling off of desks or being banged around in backpacks, and we’ve had a student drop a Kindle (which amazingly still works!). The Dell netbooks are sturdy devices, but we’ve still had to deal with significant damage to the netbooks.
2. Cost – While the prices or netbooks and e-readers are dropping, the cost of electronic textbooks still remains high. The way that we select textbooks will need to change in order to get the best electronic content at the best price.
3. Access – Our students will need to have downloaded versions of the textbooks in order to have access at all times. Many of our students don’t have wireless access at home. We can’t provide students with online versions of the textbooks and expect every student to have access. This means that the device will need to have a large storage capacity since many of our students can have up to seven textbooks at a time.
4. Multimedia Capability – The devices that we choose will need to handle videos, color diagrams, and audio content. Most of our textbook publishers currently provide additional content, and we will need to make the content available on the devices.
5. Reliability and Support – Netbooks have great storage capacity and allow us to use multimedia materials. However, we still have all of the problems with viruses and software glitches. Any devices that we use in schools will need to come with a service contract and a quick turn-around time. We will definitely need spares on hand. Schools will also need a good support staff to help with the textbook downloads.
6. E-Reader Software – The device needs to come with great e-reader software that makes it possible for students to highlight passages, take notes, bookmark sections, and look up words in a dictionary. A calendar would also be a great addition.
7. Battery Power – The device we choose must have a long battery life since our students are in school eight hours each day.
These are just some of my thoughts based on the experiences that I’ve had so far this year. The students have been very receptive to having their course content on the netbooks and Kindles, and our early surveys show that they like the added benefits of being able to add notes and highlights to important passages. The iPad looks fun, but it may not be the right device for electronic delivery of content. Our students don’t need to be distracted by hundreds of apps, but they do need to have a functional device that provides multimedia capabilities.
It will be interesting to watch this year as the textbook publishers and electronics companies begin to market electronic textbooks to schools. I definitely want to be a part of the implementation!